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Legal expert shares key advice to guard against the serious bacterial infection cholera

It has been reported that at least 15 passengers were in isolation following an outbreak of “gastric illness” whilst on board the cruise ship, the Norwegian Dawn. 

According to press reports, the Norwegian cruise liner was finally given permission to dock by local authorities at the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, when the ship was given the ‘all clear’.

All the passengers concerned developed stomach illnesses following a trip to South Africa and understandably, the Mauritian authorities prevented the ship from docking “to avoid any health risks” until the situation had been analysed. 

The passengers will, however, be subject to further preventative screening by health authorities upon disembarkation. Despite initial indications suggesting an outbreak of cholera on board the vessel, it has now been confirmed that “there was no evidence of cholera on the ship” and authorities have said the illnesses were gastroenteritis, a stomach illness.

What is cholera?

Cholera is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium vibrio cholerae. It primarily affects the small intestine and is usually transmitted through contaminated water or food. Cholera can lead to severe diarrhoea and dehydration, which if left untreated, can be life-threatening. It's more common in areas with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. 

Recent rise in cases of cholera in Southern Africa

Climate change, unchecked border movement and poor sewage systems have inflicted misery amongst many communities in Southern Africa. Thousands of people have been afflicted with acute gastrointestinal illness cause by cholera in at least seven countries. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is working to contain the spread of infection, but a lack of potable water, weak cross-border checks and a global shortage of vaccine could prevent that resolve.

The UN also reports that at least 188,000 people have been infected with cholera across seven countries in southern Africa, since the beginning of 2023. 

Prevention tips

Despite evidence now pointing to an alternative cause of infection in respect of this outbreak on the Norwegian Dawn, it's important to note that bacterial infections such as cholera can be prevented if the following steps are taken: 

  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water, especially before eating, after using the toilet, and after handling potentially contaminated items.
  • Drink clean and safe water: Consume only treated or boiled water, as well as bottled water from reputable sources. Avoid drinking untreated water from rivers, lakes, or other potentially contaminated sources.
  • Ensure food safety: Eat only properly cooked food and avoid raw or undercooked seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Be cautious of street food and ensure it is prepared in hygienic conditions.
  • Maintain proper sanitation: Use toilets or latrines for the disposal of human waste. If these facilities are not available, practice proper waste disposal techniques away from water sources.
  • Practice safe food handling: Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption. Avoid eating raw or unwashed produce that may have come into contact with contaminated water.
  • Promote sanitation in the community: Encourage the construction and use of sanitary facilities, safe waste disposal systems, and access to clean water sources within your community.

Taking such preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of transmission and help protect yourself and others from this potentially dangerous and often deadly infection.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting holidaymakers who suffer illness whilst on holiday at our dedicated serious illness abroad section.