Considering the thousands of passengers embarking on each cruise trip, and the hundreds of crew changes occurring every month, there is no dearth of viruses and germs all around. Cruise ship crew may be insured, depending on the company policy, but as always, prevention is better than cure.
One of the most common illnesses on cruise ships is gastrointestinal disease. Often, norovirus is the main culprit. This is highly contagious and because the disease spreads easily, can turn into an epidemic very quickly.
Most gastrointestinal diseases are characterised by nausea, vomiting, abdominal and/or muscle pain and diarrhea. If you experience any of these, it is time to tell the ship’s doctor and get treated.
An important part of cruise ship jobs is hygiene and sanitation within the galley, service and storage areas in particular. It might be hard to keep guests from transmitting the disease, but ensuring the virus does not have a chance to multiply keeps any infection from spreading or affecting many people at one time.
According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), great care and hygiene must be taken during storage, preparation, service and sanitation. One of these is personal hygiene, which includes washing hands thoroughly, bathing regularly, wearing clean uniforms and reporting any illnesses.
Others include maintaining food within its safe temperature zones – hot food remains hot and cold food remains cold. Bacteria multiply quickly in temperatures ranging between 40F and 140F, doubling in just 20 minutes. Any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours can fall into this temperature zone and be susceptible to harbouring dangerous bacteria.
Appropriate utensils must be used for various food items during preparation, and safety rules call for products to be stored according to strict rules – for example, raw meats and fresh vegetables cannot be stored next to each other. There are various procedures to follow when washing dishes and sanitising them as well.
In addition to gastrointestinal diseases, cruise ship crew are also susceptible to a few other infections. One among these is influenza, which also spreads easily because of close contact with others. It can also be transmitted through sneezing and coughing, so – just like norovirus – many places touched by infected people such as door knobs and handrails will be contaminated.
It can help to speak to your doctor before you join the ship and if recommended, get a flu vaccine to keep yourself protected. If you are not protected against chickenpox, it might be wise to get a vaccine for this disease too. It is infectious and can involve complications for adults.
Also beware of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, zika and yellow fever. These have been known to affect common cruise destinations such as Brazil, the Caribbean islands and Latin America. Remember to wear protective clothing or insect repellent when making port in these areas to stay safe.
Finally, it is important to practice safe sex when on board. Many cruise ship crew have sexual encounters during their contracts, often with multiple partners. This increases the risk of STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Pregnancy among staff may not be well received by the company either.
While some cruise ships offer free condoms and other contraceptives to crew, it may not always be the case. In such cases, check with the cruise medical store or carry your own.