While disease outbreaks among cruise ship passengers have made the news with apparent frequency in recent years, if you’re planning a cruise, you may be relieved to know that the rate of acute gastroenteritis on those sea-going luxury liners actually decreased among passengers from 27.2 cases per 100,000 travel days in 2008 to 22.3 in 2014. The rate among crews remained the same.

Those figures come from an article published in a recent CDC Morbidity & Mortality WeeklyReport. Entitled, Acute Gastroenteritis on Cruise Ships — United States, 2008–2014, the article is by Amy L. Freeland, PhD1; George H. Vaughan Jr, MPH1; Shailendra N. Banerjee, PhD2 (View author affiliations.)

There was a bump in the number of 2012 cases -- something the authors attribute to the the emergence of a new norovirus strain. Among 73,599,005 passengers on cruise ships during 2008–2014, a total of 129,678 (0.18%) cases of acute gastroenteritis were reported during outbreak and nonoutbreak voyages; among 28,281,361 crew members, 43,132 (0.15%) cases were reported. Only a small proportion of those cases were part of a norovirus outbreak.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Cases of acute gastroenteritis illness on cruise ships are relatively infrequent. Norovirus, the most common causative agent of outbreaks, accounted for 14,911 cases among passengers and crew members during 2008–2014, 0.01% of the estimated number of norovirus cases in the United States during the study period.

What can you do to stay healthy on a cruise ship?

To further reduce acute gastroenteritis on cruise ships, the article recommends that travelers practice good hand hygiene, especially after using the toilet and before touching the face or eating; persons experiencing diarrhea or vomiting should promptly report their illness for proper assessment, treatment, and monitoring.