Norovirus cases hit 10-year high as cruise travel surges this summer

Norovirus is making a comeback on cruises. The CDC is tracking the highest number of "stomach bug" cases in over a decade, and relaxed hygiene could be to blame.

Millions of people are flocking to cruise terminals all over the world, and increased traffic means there's a greater chance passengers could get sick on and off the ship.

"Norovirus is common in settings where people are clustered," said Dr. Timothy Laird who’s the associate chief medical officer of Health First medical group.

So far this year, there have been 13 Norovirus outbreaks on numerous cruise lines including Royal Caribbean International, Viking, Princess, and others, per CDC data. In six months, the current outbreaks already surpass all of 2022.

"He just had to stay in the cabin for 48 hours, and they brought food to him," said Stewart Chiron, known as the "The Cruise Guy" and serves as an industry expert.

Chiron’s been on over 300 cruises, and his son had the virus on board. He’s also seen ships in code red meaning numerous passengers and crew members are sick.

"When you’ve gone to the restaurants, they’ve taken away the bread and the salt and pepper shakers, and the crew members will do it for you," he added. "If you go upstairs to the buffet, you’re not going to be able to serve yourself."

If food is contaminated with fecal matter, the virus spreads, so handwashing often -- for at least 20 seconds -- is your best protection.

"The other problem with Norovirus is it’s not easily killed with alcohol," Laird said when adding hand sanitizer isn’t your best option.

31.5 million people are expected to sail in 2023 which is 106% higher than 2019, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

"People are traveling with a vengeance, and I can tell you – it’s like their Mack trucks. There’s nothing that’s going to stop them," Chiron added.

Catching the virus could slow you down and leave you quarantined on vacation. Doctors say when on board, fruits you have to peel are a safer option, and make sure leafy greens and other vegetables are thoroughly washed.

"Unfortunately, your cruise is over at that point. You stay in your cabin until you’re all better," Laird concluded.

Dr. Laird says most people will fight off the virus on their own in about 24 to 48 hours, but infants, seniors, and people with kidney disease are at high risk. They may not be able to rehydrate themselves and could need to see a doctor.