Don’t let Norwalk Virus ruin your cruise

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Don’t let Norwalk Virus ruin your cruise



Dear Pam,

We are scheduled to go on a cruise out of the Port of New Orleans Christmas week. With all the news of Norwalk Virus, should we cancel?

There has been a lot of media coverage concerning the recent outbreaks of the stomach virus on a couple of the cruise ships.

If you would like unbiased facts about the situation, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s website at

They keep up with new outbreaks on a daily basis.

These recent outbreaks are nothing new when people gather together in groups for more than two to three days. They occur on land as well as on sea. This virus has broken out in schools, hospitals, camps, hotels, and other places where people gather. How many times has half of your child’s class been out sick?

Cruise ships in general have high standards of cleanliness and are inspected twice a year for their food handling and cleanliness. The data shows that more passengers than crew became ill on a percentage basis. This means that the virus was probably passenger to passenger borne rather than one spread by the ship.

The Norwalk Virus, was identified as one of the possible viruses.

Common names of the illness caused by the Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses are viral gastroenteritis, acute nonbacterial gastroenteritis, food poisoning and food infection.

Common Norwalk virus symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Headache and low-grade fever may also occur. A mild and brief illness usually develops 24 to 48 hours after contaminated food or water is eaten and lasts for 24 to 60 hours. Severe illness or hospitalization is rare.

Shellfish and salad ingredients are the foods most often implicated in outbreaks.

Raw or insufficiently cooked clams and oysters pose a high risk of infection with Norwalk virus. Other foods are usually contaminated by ill food workers. Water is the most common source of outbreaks and may include water from municipal supplies, wells, recreational lakes, swimming pools and water stored aboard cruise ships.

Norwalk viruses are destroyed by thorough cooking. Make sure the food you eat is cooked completely. If you are traveling in an area that appears to have polluted water, drink pasteurized milk or bottled beverages without ice and do not eat raw fruits or salads. Anyone who eats food contaminated with this virus is susceptible to illness.

However, if you have had this type of food illness within the last two years you may be immune. Immunity is not permanent and re-infection can occur. The disease is more frequent in adults and older children than in very young children. Since you are sailing in the near future, drink bottled water. During the voyage, wash your hands repeatedly throughout the cruise and minimize hand to mouth contact before washing.

The alcohol, non-water based hand sanitizers are just as effective as washing with soap and water.

Most importantly, don’t stress over the situation and have a great cruise!

This article was originally published December 9, 2002 in The St. Tammany News. > Health Articles > Disease Prevention