CDC report debunks norovirus cruise myth

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Christine DuffyThe recent release of a report on norovirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores what the cruise industry has known and communicated for a long time: The occurrence of norovirus on cruise ships is rare, and it is dramatically lower than the number of incidents of this common illness on land.

Norovirus is often referred to as a "stomach bug," and the symptoms typically last between 24 and 48 hours. It is second only to the common cold in terms of its prevalence and is generally not considered a serious illness.

According to the CDC, there are about 20 million cases of norovirus annually on land in the U.S. Even if they never step foot on a cruise ship, Americans have about a 1-in-15 chance of being infected with norovirus.

Now, let's look at the record of the cruise industry. In 2013, 10.1 million people embarked on a cruise from a U.S. port. There were four norovirus outbreaks involving about 834 passengers in all. That amounts to approximately 1 in 12,000 passengers, compared with 1 in 15 people who contract norovirus on land every year.

In my view, the CDC report confirms that the cruise industry's relentless focus on keeping ships clean and safe is working to keep passengers healthy.

The process starts even before a ship leaves port, with the screening of passengers for any illnesses they may have contracted on land.

Passengers are also reminded to wash their hands regularly, just as people should do on land, and hand sanitizers are located throughout a ship for convenience. If someone does become ill, cruise ships have physicians and nurses on hand to treat them.

Cruise lines are the only sector of the hospitality industry that work directly with the CDC to proactively monitor and report cases of norovirus, even though incidents are rare on cruise ships. The industry does this in order to collaborate with the CDC on finding ways to continuously improve prevention and response.

Sensationalized news reports about norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships simply do not line up with the facts. The latest CDC report provides strong evidence that cruise lines are going to great lengths to protect the health of passengers -- and are succeeding.

Christine Duffy is president and CEO of CLIA. 

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