The Clinical Infectious Disease Journal issued a report yesterday after studying why norovirus infection outbreaks occur frequently on cruise ships.

The results were quite telling. Cruise lines always blame the passengers whenever a norovirus outbreak sickens a cruise ship. Some cruise lines know when they have a “sick ship” on their hands. Yet, the cruise line’s PR department or sales team will issue a report, exculpating the vessel and crew, but blaming some poor bastard who had the misfortune of buying a cruise ticket and sitting on a dirty toilet seat on the cruise ship.

Well finally we have a credible report.  Not some pile of propaganda from the PR people at the Cruise Line International Association, whose “facts” are usually dubious, but from highly trained health care professionals. The medical and hygiene experts covertly evaluated the thoroughness of disinfection cleaning on fifty-six (56) cruise ships over the last three years.

The professionals (Philip C. Carling, Lou Ann Bruno‐Murtha, and Jeffrey K. Griffiths) are tops in their fields.  They are from highly respected universities, including Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Tufts University Schools of Medicine, Nutrition, and Engineering.

These experts secretly tested whether objects with high potential for fecal contamination, such as toilet seats in cruise ship public restrooms, could be a cause of norovirus breakouts.

The experts’ objective tests revealed that only 37% of selected toilet area objects on cruise ships were cleaned on a daily basis. Such low scores may explain why certain cruise ships are prone to infect passengers with norovirus.

The experts’ recommendation?  “Enhanced public restroom cleaning.”

Let’s keep it simple, stop blaming the passengers – and clean the damn toilets! 


  • Glad to see a good report on this problem. Time for the cruise lines to step up and take action!

  • Jim Walker

    Hi Judy. Thanks for the comment. Hope you come back and comment, pro or con, often!

    Go Hogs!

  • I was in a tourist town a couple years ago and dined over the course of several months in dozens of different restaurants.

    Of the maybe fifty or so restaurants we chose, I would say perhaps 70% of them were higher end, with the meal cost for two persons around $60-120. I would certainly term them “luxury” establishments, that could be compared to the level of dining experience the cruise industry would like to think they are part of.

    One element of my review of the restaurants was their restroom. I always checked the restrooms because kitchen help and table staff use the same restrooms the guests use. If it is dirty, this can be a very telling fact about the level of sanitation surrounding their food service.

    On a cruise ship the hired help and guests use separate restrooms, though the rules for sanitation of those the guests have access to should be similar to any other “luxury” hotel or restaurant.

    What I noticed in many of the restrooms was a log in the restoom that showed when they were cleaned, which indictated frequency. To see this log in these better restaurants was a surprise to me. It was also a sign to me that the establishment took sanitation issues seriously and wanted to let their guests know that fact.

    Many of the logs showed cleaning three times a day. But, here is the thing. These restaurants were only open from 11am to 11pm, half a day. Yet, they were being cleaned three times a day, or every four hours while they were open.

    To ignore cleaning a restroom with heavy traffic for a full day or two is not “luxury” level service and begins to conjur up images of backwoods outhouses.

    Couple this with CDC reports that indicate mold growing in the ice machines aboard and filth in the kitchen, I think it is safe to say the cruise industry is missing the mark for being a “luxury” tourist destination.

  • Borislav Tsankov

    You people should WASH YOUR HANDS and stop blaming the cruise lines for you lack of personal hygiene. The illness always comes from outside of the ship and guess what – passengers are the one to bring it onboard.

  • Jim Walker

    Why the hostility my Bulgarian friend? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says contaminated food or water on the cruise ships is the usual culprit. Why do you think its always the passengers – and not the cruise ship’s food, water or crew members?

    What cruise ship do you work on?

  • Ron Bell

    Just returned from a very nice Alaskan cruise. My family and I noticed the in room toilet smelled terrible the whole time and tried to even clean them ourselves. I thought there might be a gas venting problem on this five year old ship.

  • Bob Havey

    My daughter just informed me her best friend’s grandpa died last month on a celebrity cruise ship, this is Feb. 2011. When they went to board, they were told it would 4 hours since additional cleaning was required. They finally boarded and learned that the previous cruisers had many cases of the norovirus. Celebrity was being extra careful and had no buffets served, citing this as the possible cause of the virus spreading. Three days into the sailing, many people were sick, including this New England man in his 60’s. There were many of their family on this trip and this man became very ill, went into convulsions and died. The entire group debarked at the next stop and have said the ship’s medical staff did virtually nothing to help, citing liability. I can tell you there is litigation coming.

  • Stir Fry

    Poor food handling leading to contaminated food and water + lack of hand washing by STAFF + dark, damp environment = passenger illness that spreads quickly.

    Once again, the cruise line shirks responsibility and outrageously blames the passengers. Since these are recent incidents, it sounds the like cruise line has cut back on their cleaning to save money.