Field of Science

Infection control at sea - should we be taking note?

Disease outbreaks at sea are just as dangerous as hospital, school and community outbreaks on land. However, this is often forgotten by excited tourists embarking on a much needed holiday. When thousands of holiday makers from across the world come together on a cruise ship the results can be devastating. Due to a ship being isolated in the middle of the ocean an outbreak can spread fast, leaving individuals defenceless and with no means of escape.
Outbreaks on cruise ships in previous years, such as the Mediterranean cruise norovirus outbreak in May 2010 (The Guardian 21/5/2010), have ruined many holidays.
Norovirus infections consist of diarrhoea and vommiting. They are also easily transmitted from person to person, making them a common problem in the community.

To prevent these outbreaks cruise liners have had to increase infection control procedures which, after recently travelling on one, I feel are highly effective and should be taken note of.
  • Before embarking all passengers have to fill out a 'health questionnaire'. If a passenger has been unwell in the past 7 days this is known before departure and infection control procedures can be implemented quickly.
  • When on the ship it seems you can't walk more than 10 meters before you see an alcohol gel hand dispenser. If you try and avoid these it won't be long before a staff member greats you with a friendly squirt of hand gel before dinner. Alcohol gel is highly effective at killing viruses, that can be transmitted via hand to hand contact, which reduces the chances of an outbreak occurring.

As well as this, staff regularly disinfect the corridors and other communal areas.
If, After all of these measures, a passenger becomes ill then they are immediately issolated from other passengers. This may not be ideal for the individual but it does prevent a large outbreak from occurring.

I feel that cruise liners take infection control very seriously and deal with it effectively. Therefore, perhaps schools and hospitals should stand up and take note in this fight against infection.


  1. Good post - I think you're absolutely right that schools and hospitals should take note of what cruise ships are doing. There isn't a week goes by without another norovirus/hospital outbreak. Maybe it has something to do with cruise ships have gotta be safe or nobody will pay that money to go on it? Maybe hospitals and schools don't take it seriously enough...

    Connor @ Rule of 6ix

  2. Unfortunately it's not yet feasible to turn hospital patients away if they've felt ill in the preceding week.
    Joking aside, a lot of those infection control measures are being done in hospitals. Alcohol hand gels are present by every door, by most hospital beds. The key problem is getting people to use the damn things !
    Perhaps in the closed environment of a cruise ship, people are more aware that they protecting themselves as opposed to others, and are far more motivated.


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