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How is an outbreak of illness on a cruise ship handled?

Whether you are on your first cruise or your tenth, you want everything to go smoothly.

An outbreak of illness on board can ruin an otherwise enjoyable voyage. How is such an outbreak handled, and do you have recourse if you become sick?

The VSP takes charge

Cruise ship personnel must comply with Vessel Sanitation Program requirements, especially when an illness outbreak occurs on board. The VSP posts pertinent information when an illness meets the following criteria:

  • The ship is on a voyage of from three to 21 days
  • The ship is carrying 100 passengers or more
  • The medical staff reports that illness has affected at least 3 percent of passengers and crew

Given these parameters, the VSP will conduct an investigation, whether the ship is sailing in U.S. waters or is within 15 days of arrival at a U.S. port. VSP representatives will request logs and records, which will provide information as to the symptoms and the date and time the first report of the illness came in. The goals of the investigation are to identify the pathogen that caused the sickness plus risk factors in order to devise measures that will stop it from spreading and prevent it from happening again.

Controlling cruise ship illness

The VSP may instruct cruise ship personnel to isolate anyone who has become ill and increase daily cleaning and disinfecting chores. Activities such as handshaking that bring people in contact with one another should stop and everyone on board encouraged to wash hands frequently. Everyone should receive alerts regarding the illness, and the VSP should receive daily updates.

Learning the ropes

Different laws apply to cruise ships, their crews and passengers than those that apply to hotels, their staff and guests. If you are among the victims of an illness outbreak aboard a cruise ship, you should first report it to the ship’s officers and seek help from the medical staff. You may also be able to file a claim for compensation against the company that owns the ship. Damages might include pain and suffering, emotional distress and the cost of your medical expenses.

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