FRIDAY, FEB. 10: Having someone violently retching at the table next to you is one way to ruin a meal.
I was enjoying a lovely dinner with my wife, her father and his travelling companion when all of a sudden, the people seated next to us bolted up from the table and left.
The next thing we knew a team of workers in Hazmat suits had placed yellow tape all around the table and started doing a deep disinfecting of the whole area.
For me, it was a bit off putting, but for my wife and her dad, who are both scientists, it was a more shrug of the shoulders event.
An official from the cruise line came to our table and apologized, but we never did find out whether it was from food poisoning or the Norovirus.
The illness has been in the news recently with outbreaks on three cruise ships — Crown Princess, Aurora and Voyager of the Seas.
It’s a misconception that this is a cruise ship disease because the Norovirus can occur anywhere.
The reason it is commonly related to cruise ships is that cruise lines in the US are obligated to report to the Centre for Disease Control the number of passengers who were sick with it before returning to port, whether that number was 100, one or zero.
It must file a special report with the CDC immediately if during a cruise if the number of sick passengers and crew reach three percent.
In both the Crown Princess case and Voyager of the Seas the CDC has yet to officially determine if Norovirus (You can check here www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm) was the cause.
According to the CDC 364 of the 3,103 passengers (11.73 per cent) reported being ill and 32 out of 1,168 crew (2.74 per cent).
The main symptoms were vomiting and diarrhoea.
The Voyager of the Seas also had a high percentage of passengers get sick with 248 of 3,139 falling ill compared to just 11 of 1,192 crew.
There are 15 to 20 shipboard outbreaks every year — not all of them Norovirus — which is a low percentage compared to the total number of cruises.
It affects all lines from Carnival to Cunard.
So what can you do, if you’re going on a cruise and are worried about it?
First off, use those handy sanitization dispensers all over the ship. I’m always very conscientious to make sure my hands are clean, especially before eating a meal.
The second thing you can do is avoid the buffets or serve yourself stations.
As you may have noticed in the above statistics, passengers get it ill at a much higher rate than the crew.
The cruise lines drill into their staff to wash their hands, Joe-Bob, Ginger and the kids may not have the same cleanliness regime and their grimy little paws reaching in to grab a slice of pizza or bigger out a dessert probably plays the biggest role in spreading the disease.
Having said that, it is probably safe to eat the overwhelming majority of times, but if that’s a concern for you, then you should avoid it.
The theatre and casino are also high traffic areas, so if you want to take an extra precaution, bring along some sanitation wipes and clean down the arm rests.
It wouldn’t put me off taking a cruise and you shouldn’t let it deter you either.
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The rules are pretty simple, use your Butterfield debit card for purchases and you’ll be entered into the draw for the $1.00 travel voucher which you can use on airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises and more.