4 Common Health Problems on Cruise Ships (and How to Prevent ‘Em)

These health woes can put a damper on your sea sabbatical.

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When you see photos of a cruise, you see decadence, luxury, relaxation, and sunshine. What you don’t see in those photo galleries is the high risk of infections and other health woes that may come with it. Due to the close contact of all the passengers, it’s easy for bugs to jump from one vacationer to the next—which can really put a damper on your week of luxury.

Knowing what to look out for can help ensure that you don’t spend your Jamaican cruise in your bed. Here are four of the most common illnesses to be mindful of on your next cruise:

1. Food poisoning

Norovirus—a common cause of foodborne illness—is a regular passenger on cruise ships. When infected by norovirus, you’re likely to experience diarrhea and vomiting. (Here are other symptoms of norovirus infection.)

It’s not that the kitchen crew isn’t following food safety guidelines. Instead, foodborne illness can pass by other sick passengers touching different surfaces or objects—including areas of the buffet line. For example, if you touch your mouth after touching a contaminated object or surface, you’re likely to get infected.

The key to fighting the spread of norovirus is good personal hygiene:

  • Wash hands regularly, especially before eating.

  • Avoid touching your face.

  • Follow food safety guidelines, such as only eating cooked and hot foods, drinking from sealed containers, avoiding ice, and rinsing off fresh produce.

2. The flu

If you thought the flu spread quickly in your office, wait and see how quickly it spreads on a cruise ship. Just like with norovirus, you can help prevent influenza by following good personal hygiene, especially regular handwashing.

But even better, don’t forget to get your annual flu vaccine. Plan ahead: The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to provide protection against the virus.

3. Seasickness

Not all illnesses on cruise ships are spread by pathogens. You may be prone to seasickness—especially if you also get sick in cars, trains, or planes.

If you think seasickness will be an issue for you, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your doctor ahead of time to learn about medicines or other possible solutions to help subside unpleasant symptoms. (Find out a surprising natural remedy to relieve motion sickness.)

4. Regional infections

*Where* you cruise may introduce other potential health concerns. Some parts of the world may be dealing with infections that aren’t a problem at home, so know where you’re traveling and plan ahead. You might even be able to get vaccines for certain infections beforehand.

For example, yellow fever outbreaks are common on cruise ships around Africa, and European cruises are prone to chickenpox and rubella outbreaks. Before a cruise, talk to your doctor to make sure your vaccines are up-to-date, or if there are any additional vaccines you should acquire before hitting up a certain region.

While on your cruise, don’t forget about your skin health: Find out the derm-approved way to apply sunscreen here, and check out this guide for the best sunscreen for your skin type.