The “stomach flu” isn’t really the flu at all. It’s actually viral gastroenteritis, and its most common cause is a group of viruses called noroviruses. No matter what you call it, the illness is highly contagious and very unpleasant — symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. In close quarters, a norovirus outbreak can quickly spread from person to person, earning the sickness the nickname “cruise ship disease.”
Norovirus is such a problem on cruise ships, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Vessel Sanitation Program in place to help control outbreaks. But the results of a new study, published in this month’s issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, shows that even stricter criteria for cleanliness may be in order.
Analysis of data from 56 cruise liners evaluated between 2005 and 2008 shows that only 37% of 8,344 toilet area objects (toilet seat, flush handle or button, toilet stall inner handhold, stall inner door handle, restroom inner door handle and baby changing table surfaces) in 273 randomly selected public restrooms were cleaned on a daily basis. More than half of the ships had overall “thoroughness of disinfection cleaning” (TDC) scores less than 30%. Several of these low-scoring ships had nearly perfect CDC sanitation scores. TDC scores were substantially lower for the three ships that had a norovirus outbreak within four months of evaluation compared to those ships that did not.
Why bring this up in the Spittoon? A lucky few have less to worry about when planning a seafaring vacation: variation in the FUT2 gene renders some people resistant to the most common strain of norovirus. Check out the 23andMe Norovirus Resistance Report to learn more!