To all the people who have anxiously attempted to cancel their cruise plans because of the norovirus outbreaks on Royal Caribbean and Princess ships, your fears are unfairly targeting the ships. This week, one of the most celebrated resort hotels in America, the Mohonk Mountain House in New York state, had to shut down and sanitize for a few days after guests brought an outbreak of the virus with them.
Mohonk is one of the most respected luxury retreats in the nation, having been established in 1869 and still commanding top dollar today. The outbreak confirms it: Norovirus can happen anywhere. To single out cruise ships for blame is terribly unfair.
Although the cruise industry has many things to answer for—exploiting legal loopholes, low wages supported by tips, dumping waste—norovirus isn't one of them. Our recent feature (it's well worth a look—click here) tells the truth about cruise ship norovirus and how to avoid it, but one thing is underscored by the Mohonk outbreak: No matter how spotless and well-tended your facility is—even the Queen of England was struck on her private yacht, Britannia—it can host a norovirus outbreak. The variable doesn't tend to be cleanliness—it's the people who visit.
The Centers for Disease Control say norovirus is the most common form of gastroenteritis in the country. It estimates that an astounding 19-21 million people come down with norovirus in the United States each year. You can catch the norovirus simply because a person who carries it has touched a surface that you touch next. No amount of janitorial prowess can fully eliminate the risk, particularly in the winter, when people tend to stay cooped up together indoors.
You do the math. If 20 million people are catching norovirus each year, and about 1,000 were sickened on the most recent Royal Caribbean ship outbreak, customers who are freaking out about cruise ship norovirus are actually worrying about .005% of the total cases this year. That isn't reasonable. It also isn't fair.
None of us wants to go through life living in terror because of something we saw on the news. That irrational fears should keep us from seeing the world during the short years we have on it—well, that's something of a tragedy.
No, the reason we're always hearing about norovirus on the news is 1) cruise ships are required by law to report every case, whereas most facilities are not and 2) partially thanks to the sorry spectacle of a Carnival ship limping around the Gulf of Mexico the media has developed a taste for gossiping about every misfortune of the cruise industry. There are lots of things we can be discussing when it comes to cruise ships, but the numbers don't bear out the accusation that they are filthy breeding grounds for norovirus.
If the Mohonk house and the Britannia can see outbreaks, then it could happen anywhere. And if it could happen anywhere, there's no other way to say it: It's just one of those things. If it happens to you, stay hydrated, get a few days' rest, and you'll be back on your feet in no time, exploring this wonderful world.
Photo credit: WalkingGeek/Flickr