If you follow the news at all, you know there have been several cruise ship outbreaks that led to truncated voyages over the last few weeks due to Norovirus. Some new records have been hit, with one ship reporting more than 700 cases. After returning to port, infected passengers were advised to go to local hotels and quarantine themselves until they were better.
If you’ve never been on a cruise, they are wonderful (sans an outbreak, of course). You get an entire vacation packaged with room, food, excursions, activities, entertainment, etc. in one, easy-to-schedule price— and you typically see a variety of amazing destinations in only a few days that would otherwise be a logistical feat (or nightmare) to schedule on your own. I say that because I’m a big fan, so this post isn’t intended to deter you from a cruise. It might lead you to do a little more research on the cruise line you choose, however… and hopefully save you a virus.
Crisis Communications in Full Swing
After the first outbreak was reported, I actually communicated over social media with one woman who was on the ship with the largest number of cases. She said the staff were standing in front of the buffet lines with a pump bottle of hand sanitizer, and other staff members were spraying and wiping a sanitizing chemicals wherever they could. They looked calm on the outside, but it was clear they were all a bit panicked on the inside… they just didn’t know what else to do.
Then I saw classic PR crisis communications in full play (and I can’t blame them): the cruise line brought in a solution for spraying sanitizer, and posted an official response with plenty of pics next to the new machines and the company providing the services. And yes, that’s what Level4 Bio offers (it wasn’t us… yet!), but there are some big differences… which I’ll come to in a bit.
So What is Norovirus, Really?
In laymen’s terms, it’s the winter vomiting bug, and a common cause of diarrhea (gastroenteritis). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Noroviruses cause 19-21 million infections, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths every year in the United States. Norovirus infection is sometimes misnamed “stomach flu“, however, Gastroenteritis is not associated with flu, a respiratory infection.
Norovirus infection outbreaks are more likely to occur in crowded or closed communities, such as cruise ships, long-term care facilities, prisons, overnight camps and dormitories – places where the virus can spread rapidly from human-to-human.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the most common causes of human norovirus infections are contaminated foods, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods that were handled by infected workers (salads, ice, cookies, fruit and sandwiches), or any food contaminated with the feces or vomit of an infected person.
And What Are the Cruise Ships Possibly Missing?
I saw several articles before the holidays commenting that this might be a tough virus winter… but ships are being hit pretty hard… imagine 700+ people on a self-contained vessel all vomiting and chained to the commode. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Cleaning staff are entering rooms, cleaning as best they can, but spraying and wiping with rags, which can often cause more cross contamination and spread the virus further.
As far as I can discern (and from my exchanges with passengers), they are using hand sanitizers, and some other sanitizing chemicals (possibly water-based) and spraying / wiping high traffic areas. I’ve watched videos on this new sanitizing spray service that one cruise line is promoting and while spraying their sanitizing chemical, they have to put large trash bags around TV’s and other electronics.
I also happen to know their chemical is extremely noxious, and not safe for anyone to be around soon after a service. I would like to warn that cruise ship, but I’m not able to reach anyone to get a message into the right person. Trust me, I’ve been trying. They might be trading one problem for another. And clearly from that company’s own promotional videos, they can’t sanitize machines, metals or fine electronics… which on a cruise ship, equates to a lot of areas that are likely being completely missed, but that are high traffic areas:
- Slots / gaming machines in casinos
- In-room electronics such as phones, TVs
- TVs and phones in public access areas
- Buffet tables and food-warming heaters
- Entire kitchen facilities
- Computers and control machinery in staff areas
- Elevators and staircase rails
- Room doors and electronic key entry devices
- Metals such as vents, fans, doors, etc. in common areas and public access restrooms
- and probably much more
Many viruses prefer warm areas, so electronics are a common breeding ground and therefore a common transmission point. And with so many people in close quarters and roaming the same acres of ship as 2000+ other passengers, there’s an endless list of places where noxious, water based chemicals simply cannot do an effective job.
Clearly, much is being missed.
The Bigger Picture
Hand sanitizers are a very small part of the solution and clearly in all of these latest cruise ship scenarios, weren’t terribly effective in containing the virus. And we’ve been posting social media and notes to the CDC for years, yet they still recommend hand sanitizers, and this:
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
To have an effective infection control protocol, you need to sanitize entire areas – not just where passengers are ‘expelling.’ The operative part is highlighted in red… “Use a chlorine bleach solution with water…” This isn’t an EPA / green solution. You can’t put chlorine or noxious chemicals into close, crowded quarters like a cruise ship (or anywhere, in all honesty) or risk them going into the ocean.
The real solution is the last part of their recommendation: “OR OTHER DISINFECTANT” — the problem is, people don’t know what else is available that can address an entire cruise ship from floor to ceiling, top to bottom and everywhere in between. And a solution that can completely saturate metals, machines and fine electronics without damage or corrosion.
Maybe There’s Another Way
Sanitizing the entire environment and everything in it should be priority number one. Clearly hand spraying and wiping such large-scale ships with so many rooms, public areas and the like isn’t terribly realistic. Today’s cruise lines are doing the best they can with the tools they have, but consider there might be a better (and completely different) way. An effective solution for sanitizing large scale environments should be able to:
- Completely saturate metals and fine electronics absolutely anywhere (and any material, for that matter) without any damage or corrosion.
- Effectively kill a long list of viruses and bacteria including Norovirus on any surface, whether it be fabrics, metals, wood, plastics, etc without damage or corrosion.
- Be used anywhere without any risk to people or the environment; ideally the sanitizing formula should be EPA approved.
- Sanitizing fast and dry quickly, without the need for long-term shut down of any area; you should be able to sanitize, dry quickly and leave the area ready for almost immediate use (and ideally keep sanitizing after the formula dries).
- Kill viruses and bacteria without emitting any harmful or noxious chemicals and be done in one step for ease of use and speed, with no rinsing, no wiping, no chlorine bleach and without the use of any harmful chemicals that are harmful to people or the environment.
My sincere hope is that the industry is spurred in a direction to upgrade its cleaning protocols to the benefit of everyone.
I welcome your comments, and if you’re headed on a cruise soon, I wish you a safe and healthy voyage!