The number of ill passengers on cruise ships fell to its
lowest level in at least 16 years in 2018, as improved sanitation and better
practices kept outbreaks from mushrooming.
Just 547 passengers were sick with gastrointestinal illness
in outbreaks reported to the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control,
less than half of the 1,214 reported last year.
Only one of the 10 cruise ships reporting outbreaks had more
than 100 passengers ill. By contrast, 2017 saw five ships with more than 100
cases of gastrointestinal illness, including one that reported 310 sick
Most episodes of gastrointestinal illness on ships are
caused by noroviruses, communicable but non-fatal bugs that are typically
brought aboard by passengers at embarkation.
A sharp upswing in norovirus outbreaks on ships began in
2002, linked to a new strain of the virus. At its peak in 2006, outbreaks were
reported on 34 voyages affecting thousands of passengers.
An outbreak must be reported to the CDC when
gastrointestinal illness hits 3% or more of the ship's passengers.
In recent years, cruise lines have made a concerted effort
to inform passengers about frequently washing their hands and using the
sanitizing gel dispensers located throughout the ship. New ships have multiple
sinks for hand washing built at the entrance to the buffet restaurants. Lines
have adopted extensive cleaning regimens when signs of illness crop up during a
On only one ship last year, Cunard Line's Queen Victoria,
was an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness traced to e-coli bacteria rather
than norovirus or unknown causes, CDC records show.