Tips for a Healthy Cruise
Embarking on a cruise is an ideal holiday for some rest and relaxation. It’s also a great way to visit many destinations and explore new places across the globe. From cruising to Alaska or around the Caribbean, to going up the Amazon River, or around Africa, there is a cruise suited for every type of traveller.
While going on a cruise is typically considered low risk in many ways, there are several unique considerations to keep in mind before setting sail. Travellers from many places come together in often crowded areas on the ship that can enable the spread of several diseases. People with chronic medical conditions, those who are immunocompromised, the elderly, or pregnant women must carefully consider the health risks when planning their next cruise.
The most common disease outbreaks on cruises involve respiratory illnesses, including influenza and COVID-19. Many passengers are at increased risk of complications from the flu and severe illness from COVID-19 due to age ≥ 65 years and chronic medical conditions. Pneumococcal pneumonia can be a complication of both the flu and COVID-19.
Gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses are second to respiratory illnesses that cause disease outbreaks on cruise ships. Over 90% of GI outbreaks on cruises are due to norovirus. Norovirus is a highly contagious disease spread through contaminated food and water, direct person to person contact, contaminated surfaces, or aerosolized vomit in the air. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain for 1-3 days. Many cases of GI illness on cruise ships are also caused by traveller’s diarrhea when eating at ports off the ship.
Mosquito borne diseases
Many cruise ships visit destinations where mosquito borne diseases are a risk, such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya fever, zika virus, and japanese encephalitis. Depending on your destination you may need medication to prevent malaria or proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Vaccine preventable diseases
Outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases have occurred on cruise ships, such as measles, rubella, chickenpox, and meningococcal disease. Travellers planning cruise travel should ensure their routine vaccines are up to date, as well as any recommended vaccines specific to your cruise itinerary.
Medical care on a cruise
The medical care available on cruise ships can vary. Cruise ship medical facilities should be able to provide emergency medical care, stabilize patients and initiate treatment, and facilitate evacuation if needed. It’s important to purchase travel medical insurance including evacuation before embarking on your cruise. If the ship is in a remote area at sea, evacuation to a hospital could be delayed. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, discuss your health and cruise plans with your primary care provider.
If you have symptoms of any respiratory or GI illness you will likely be quarantined in your cabin.
Tips to stay healthy on your cruise
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating and after going to the bathroom, and touching high contact surfaces such as railings, doorknobs, and elevator buttons. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, with at least 60% alcohol, if soap and water are not available.
- Wear a mask in crowded or poorly ventilated areas to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.
- Get vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu before your cruise.
- If you are ≥ 65 years of age, get vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and consider taking Dukoral to prevent traveller’s diarrhea if you plan to eat off the ship.
- Practice good food and water precautions to avoid getting traveller’s diarrhea when eating off the ship.
- If you develop symptoms of a respiratory or GI illness visit the ship’s doctor.
- Pack oral rehydration salts such as Hydralyte or Gastrolyte in your travel medical kit to prevent dehydration if you become sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
- Apply an insect repellent with 30% DEET or 20% Icaridin when visiting destinations where mosquito borne diseases are a risk.
- Be aware of your cruise ship’s medical limitations and prepare accordingly. Purchase travel medical insurance in the event of illness or injury.
If you are planning a cruise, consider booking a pre-travel consultation at TravelSafe Clinic. A doctor or nurse consultant experienced in travel medicine will determine the health risks for your cruise itinerary and recommend and administer vaccines. Call us at 604-251-1975 or complete the online booking form to book your appointment today.