What is norovirus? Norovirus sounds exotic but it is well known as the “24-hour stomach bug” and is the second most prevalent illness in the U.S. after the common cold. Symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps that typically last one to two days.

There are numerous incidents of norovirus across the country, but the reason you hear about it with regard to cruise ships is because they are the only ones required to report gastrointestinal illness to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Hotels don’t have to report it – neither do airlines, universities or hospitals!

On cruise ships, the illness is typically spread through person-to-person contact by touching surfaces that someone with the virus previously had contact with, not from the food or water. So, cruise guests should heed their mother’s advice and wash their hands! The best way to prevent illness is to wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water.

What are the chances of getting norovirus? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 23 million people in the U.S. – or eight percent of the population – contract norovirus each year. That's 1 in 12 people. In contrast, far less than one percent of all U.S. cruise guests are affected by norovirus annually; that’s 1 in 3,600 people. The few cruise guests who experience symptoms should follow the guidance of the ship’s medical staff to prevent the spread of the illness to fellow passengers.

In addition to taking individual precautions, let us assure you that cruise lines are vigilant in keeping a clean ship. Rigorous cleaning procedures are in place to disinfect and sanitize public areas including all door handles, railings, elevator buttons and slot machine levers, to name just a few. In fact, according to the CDC, cruise lines have the highest sanitation standards in the world!

The safety and well-being of cruise line guests is the cruise industry’s highest priority. Should you wish to obtain additional information, including more information on norovirus, tips for staying healthy on a cruise and proper hand-washing techniques, please visit CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program Web site