Skip to main content

Cruise ships: What to do if you fall ill

Over the past couple of years more and more Brits have been taking advantage of post-pandemic life by jetting off to sunnier climes and visiting destinations that would otherwise remain on a bucket list.

One of the more popular holidays in recent times have been cruises. The appeal to many is clear as there is an opportunity for holidaymakers to visit a number of destinations as part of a single package, not to mention the amenities offered by many cruise operators from food to sports activities to dance classes.

However, as highlighted in a recent article in the Washington Post, where hundreds of cruise passengers fell ill on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, there is a risk of becoming sick as a result of stomach viruses that can be prevalent on such cruises.

Illness problems on cruise liners can emerge in all kinds of situations. If issues arise, there are some key points to bear in mind to help protect yourself and deal with an illness while on board the cruise.

1. Wash your hands

It goes without saying that viral illnesses such as norovirus are most commonly transmitted via person-to-person contact. Thoroughly washing hands, and more often than normal, can help kill any germs before they can infect you. Particular care should be taken when coming into contact with surfaces in common areas such as stairway railings, lifts and slot machines.

In addition, it's advisable to use hand sanitiser frequently, particularly in busier areas where there's no easy access to hand washing facilities. Cruise ships should have hand sanitiser stations placed strategically around common areas, however you can also carry your own. It's also important to note that hand sanitisers are not a replacement for basic hand washing.

If you do end up falling ill, continue to wash your hands often even after you feel better. Norovirus can be found in your body even before you start feeling sick. The virus can also stay in your body for two weeks or more after you feel better and you can still spread norovirus during that time. It's therefore important to take all measures to ensure the safety of the other passengers.

2. Drink fluids

Cruise ship tap water is safe to drink unless you're told otherwise by the ship's authorities. However, it's important to note that when visiting certain destinations, you'll need to drink bottled water to avoid getting sick.

If you do fall ill with gastric illness, make sure you keep hydrated. If you're struggling to keep water down, try taking re-hydration sachets. Also consult the on-board medical team in case you need to be placed on a drip as dehydration can lead to serious health complications.

3. Eat safe food

Viruses are relatively resistant to heat and can survive temperatures as high as 145°F. Where it appears that staff members who handle food might be infected, raise your concerns and avoid any food that might have been handled by them. Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.

4. Clean and disinfect surfaces

It's often the case that when someone is ill, accidents can happen. Where someone vomits or has diarrhoea, always clean thoroughly and disinfect the entire area as soon as possible. The person cleaning should make sure to take proper precautions such as wearing gloves and ensuring that any soiled items are washed on a hot cycle as soon as possible. They should also ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly.

If you see someone being sick in a public area, leave immediately and notify a member of staff.

5. Report it

Many cruise liners ask passengers to fill out forms indicating whether they've experienced certain symptoms in the past week before they embark. If you've been feeling under the weather, please answer these questions honestly.

It doesn't mean that you're automatically removed from the cruise. While contagious cruisers might find themselves quarantined in their cabin for part of the holiday, you're helping the rest of the passengers and crew by not spreading your virus around the ship and causing more travellers to become ill.

Where you experience symptoms during your cruise, immediately report them to the medical centre. Try not to visit the medical centre personally unless you have been told to do so. The medical centre will normally monitor reports of illness and take precautions or issue advice in the event of an outbreak, so it's important that they're informed from the onset. They'll also be able to ensure that you receive the proper care and treatment when dealing with your symptoms.

Ensure that any report is documented in writing. Where you're not given a copy of the documentation ensure that you note down when you reported the illness and to whom. 

6. Get tested

Sometimes the illness might not be norovirus and might be of another origin such as parasitic or bacterial. It's important that if you notice symptoms such as blood in your stools that a test is carried out to determine the cause.

What to do once you return home:

1. Send a formal letter

Even where you have reported the illness while on the cruise it's advisable to send a detailed letter to your cruise operator, particularly if you have noticed issues showing a deficiency in health and hygiene practices.

2. Get medical advice

Once you're home, seek advice from your GP, particularly if you're still experiencing symptoms. Your GP will be able to arrange for a stool test and provide advice or medication to assist you with managing your symptoms. If your symptoms take a turn for the worst and you're not able to obtain an appointment with the GP, seek medical advice via your local A&E. Once the acute symptoms have stopped and you feel well in yourself again, if you notice any changes to your normal health such as an altered bowel habit or fatigue, follow up with your GP for further investigations and treatment.

3. Evidence out-of-pocket losses

If you incur out-of-pocket expenses as a result of your illness, ensure you retain your receipts. These losses could range from probiotics to over-the-counter medication. If you're taking time off work due to illness it's also important to establish whether you continued to be paid in full or whether you were on sick pay during your time off.

4. Seek legal advice

If you’re unhappy with how your complaint has been handled by your cruise operator, you could consider seeking legal advice.

As part of a team of international serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, we've successfully acted for large groups of cruise passengers bringing claims against operators due to illnesses they've suffered on board.

The team also has vast experience in representing holidaymakers who have suffered illnesses caused by the likes of legionella, norovirus, E.coli, contracted while on board cruise ships, which in some cases can lead to long-term health issues.

For more holidaying advice, visit our dedicated 'Safe Travels This Summer' section on our website.