FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Dec. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- The "24-hour stomach bug," also known as norovirus, is on the rise among the general population and outbreaks are being reported across the country in hospitals, schools, daycare centers and nursing homes, according to Dave Forney, chief of the Vessel Sanitation Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With the high number of norovirus cases being reported in California, Minnesota, Canada and Hong Kong, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has observed a corresponding increase in norovirus among guests and crew on board cruise ships. "Norovirus is not an illness unique to cruise ships, but rather an illness commonly seen in many settings throughout the United States," Forney noted. "The reason you hear about norovirus on cruise ships is because they are required to report every incidence of gastrointestinal illness," Forney said. "There isn't a required national reporting system for land-based outbreaks of norovirus in the United States." As the second most prevalent illness in the United States, second only to the common cold, the CDC estimates that 23 million people -- or 8 percent of the country's population -- develop symptoms of norovirus annually. Each year, less than 1 percent of all cruise ship passengers are impacted by norovirus. Whether on land or sea, simple personal hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, is a strong start to avoiding contagion and spreading of the virus. "The power of prevention is in your hands -- literally," notes Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of CLIA, whose members include 21 cruise lines and 16,500 North American travel agencies. "The single best piece of advice to stay healthy on land or at sea at any time of the year is to wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm water and soap." Cruise lines have a vested interest in educating their passengers and in keeping a 'clean ship' to ensure a great vacation, Dale added. "Passengers -- past and future -- should rest assured that their chances of getting ill on a cruise are actually far less than going about their every day lives." Health experts confirm that norovirus on cruise ships is not generally sourced from food or water, but rather from direct contact with a person with the "stomach bug." It is also passed along indirectly on objects or surfaces previously touched by someone with norovirus, such as handrails or elevator buttons. Cruise lines endlessly clean and sanitize their vessels, Forney noted. He has seen the cruise lines take a leadership role in addressing norovirus on board: "Cruise ships, which are held to the highest sanitation standards in the world, have rigorous protocols and procedures in place to manage and eradicate transmission of norovirus." These rigorous procedures include disinfecting and sanitizing "high touch" public areas such as door handles, railings and elevator buttons. Passengers are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and hand-sanitizers are offered on some ships. The CDC and cruise lines also recommend that cruise guests minimize their contact with others during the period when the illness is likely to be passed on. If a passenger is experiencing symptoms, they are well advised to follow the medical staff's recommendations to prevent the spread of illness. Symptoms of the illness include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps and may last from one to two days. The most common way of transmission is through person-to-person contact. It is highly recommended that travelers experiencing norovirus symptoms prior to their cruise contact the cruise line before sailing to see if alternative cruising options are available. For tips on how to stay healthy on your cruise vacation, more information on norovirus and proper hand washing techniques, please visit the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov or the Vessel Sanitation Program's Web site at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. About CLIA The nonprofit Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is North America's largest cruise industry organization. CLIA represents the interests of 21 member lines and participates in the regulatory and policy development process while supporting measures that foster a safe, secure and healthy cruise ship environment. CLIA is also engaged in travel agent training, research and marketing communications to promote the value and desirability of cruise vacations and counts as members nearly 16,500 travel agencies. For more information on CLIA, the cruise industry, and CLIA-member cruise lines and travel agencies, visit www.cruising.org.
SOURCE Cruise Lines International Association