Cruise ships are an environment unlike any other when it comes to the spread of disease. You have sometimes as many as 8,000 people from all over the world crammed into a boat together for a week or more. That means that each elevator button, hand rail, tongs in the buffet, counter tops are touched thousands of times each day and unfortunately, not everyone is 100% healthy. While you can protect yourself from others, sometimes it is YOU who is the sick one. Here's what to do if you catch a cold while on a cruise ship.
The first thing to consider here is that unlike other forms of vacation destinations and transportation, cruise ships take illnesses VERY seriously. It is essential that you answer crew members honestly if you they ask you if you are feeling well and to do what you can to protect fellow passengers from your germs as well. Don't be selfish and ruin someone else's trip, if you are already feeling sick - don't get on the ship. Unfortunately, things aren't always that easy and sometimes a cold manifests itself after you are already on board.
How to Tell If it is a Cold or Something Else
I’ve cruised enough to have met friends that unfortunately have fallen ill and cruise lines don’t play games with sick passengers. A cold though is different than other illnesses such as flu, but sometimes symptoms can be similar. The most important thing here is that if you have digestive ailments or fever in addition to cold symptoms make sure to seek immediate medical attention since that could be something more severe.
Consider Confining Yourself to Your Cabin
The last thing you need to do is be wandering around the ship coughing, sneezing, and especially not touching serving spoons in the buffet. Have someone deliver food to your room or order room service (but please make sure to wash your hands and the door handles too so you protect the delivery person's health). This might not be as fun as wandering around the ship and hanging out at bars but it will give you the chance to catch up on rest and get some fresh air and sunshine out on the balcony if you have one.
Watch People Around You and Avoid Situations Where You Might Spread Germs
You are going to be surrounded by thousands of mostly healthy people, and even though most cruise lines have a health questionnaire before you board – people lie. Others will begin to manifest symptoms on the ship itself. On almost every cruise I see people sneezing, coughing, wiping their eyes and nose or other potential signs of having a cold. Don't be that guy! It's just disrespectful to your fellow passengers.
Cold virus is often spread by droplets expelled through coughing and sneezing and it can also be spread simply by someone who might have rubbed their drippy nose and then pressed and elevator button or grabbed a handrail. The next person who touches that spot and then rubs their eyes, nose, mouth etc. now has a chance of being infected too.
Avoid Situations Where You’ll be Touching Other People (and stuff they might touch)
I’m generally a pretty friendly guy but I try not to shake hands now when I meet people. Instead, I opt for a friendly fist bump where possible. The same holds true for a cruise ship except that here there are a lot more opportunities to come in close contact with others. This includes the gym, sauna, buffet lines, elevator buttons, door handles, hand rails, pens, even the stacks of plates and cups at non-buffet eateries. If you have a cold (or think you do), simply avoid all of these areas and consider having someone else deliver your food from the buffet.
Your best bet is to simply avoid those situations and then do what you can to protect yourself and make your body more resistant to catching a cold.
Wash Your Hands
This is so important to health on a cruise ship that most cruise lines even have this instruction as part of the safety drill before setting sail. This is important to protect others from your germs as well as those you may have picked up from touching an infected surface. However, it’s also critical to making sure you don't get more sick by avoiding infecting yourself with other germs picked up somewhere. Simply touching an infected object probably won’t make you ill … but if your fingers then rub your eyes, pick your nose, or are used for eating something then you can become infected.
Use Hand Sanitizer
Cruise ships do a pretty good job with placing hand sanitizer stations at the entrance to most common areas including restaurants, but it is up to you to use it! I also carry a small bottle of hand wash with me and use it between trips to be buffet line as well as pretty much any time that I come in contact with anyone including simply shaking hands.
Get Some Exercise
While you should NOT go to the gym, pool, spa etc. if you are sick, most ships have a walking track on the top deck and many have an outside deck lower on the ship where you can walk at your own pace and avoid contact with people. The sunshine and fresh air will help alleviate symptoms as well as help keep your immune system working to fight off the cold germs.
Make sure to eat your veggies and watch out for anything that might cause other issues such as high fat foods and cream-based items that might lead to more congestion. The goal here is the get your immune system stronger so it can fight the cold germs and make you healthier faster.
If you do get a cold before your cruise, PLEASE DON’T GO! Chances are that the cruise staff will see your symptoms and potentially quarantine you to your cabin or worse, simply not allow you to board.
While cruise ships are a great petri dish for the spread of disease, most cruise lines do a good job of keeping things as clean as possible. However. I don't want to just assume that they wiped things down regularly or that the hand sanitizer will be working. It’s up to you to make sure you are protected and are able to have a healthy vacation! Please keep the health of your fellow passengers in mind and do the right thing!