The latest coronavirus scare has been causing concern across the world. Only recently 138 Indians including cruise ship crew on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were screened for the contagious virus, with more than a dozen testing positive. The rest were repatriated. Due to thousands living in close proximity on board cruise ships, contagious diseases such as coronavirus can spread easily, causing an epidemic outbreak. Cruise ships have safety standards in place to avoid such instances, which explains why the percentage of epidemics of highly contagious diseases such as norovirus is low compared to the number of vessels being run.
Coronavirus is in fact a group of viruses which cause illnesses from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), itself a global concern a few years ago. The new strain COVID-19 has not been previously identified in humans and is thought to have been transmitted from animals. The most common symptoms include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. The virus, which originated in Wuhan in China, has travelled to over 100 countries with more than 1,09,000 confirmed infections and over 3000 deaths so far (as on 09 March 2020) according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). There is currently no cure and vaccines are under investigation.
Many people hit by COVID-19 – around 80 per cent – are able to recover without special treatment. They may suffer from the common symptoms, and perhaps also from general body ache, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and diarrhea. In very mild cases, some people infected with coronavirus may not even show any symptoms or feel unwell. In severe cases, it causes impaired organ function, severe cough and pneumonia, which many succumb to.
Coronavirus is spread through droplets from an infected person’s nose or mouth that often land on objects or surfaces around them. Like norovirus on cruise ships, COVID-19 is transmitted to other people when they touch these objects on surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It’s also possible to breathe in these droplets if you stand within a metre of the infected person.
One of the main ways to avoid contracting coronavirus is following correct handwashing techniques, a point taught to every cruise crew member. Cruise ships avoid epidemics by ensuring that all crew members on board wash their hands thoroughly and often. It is also recommended to guests.
To avoid getting coronavirus, especially on cruise ships, it is important to wash your hands as frequently as possible, particularly after being in public spaces. Keep an alcohol-based hand santiser on you for times when handwashing with soap and water is not possible.
When washing your hands, wet them with clean running water, turn off the tap and apply soap. Lather well and scrub your palms, the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Remember particularly to scrub your nails and the backs of your hands as these are the spots we often miss and places easy for the virus to cling to. This process should take at least 20 seconds – the Centre for Disease Control suggests humming the Happy Birthday tune from beginning to end twice through for time. Rinse well with clean, running water, and then use a clean tissue or automatic hand dryer. It’s important to use a tissue to turn the tap off so you avoid the risk of re-contaminating your hands.
The WHO also recommends sneezing or coughing into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue, which should be disposed off immediately and properly. If you are feeling unwell, stay at home. If you are on board a cruise ship, inform your supervisor immediately and recuperate in your cabin or the medical room as recommended.
Cruise ships have long followed strategies to keep epidemics at bay, which can certainly help in the fight against the new coronavirus.