by: Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
A recent outbreak of the Norovirus on a Royal Caribbean Cruise has many wondering if it’s safe to travel. While viral outbreaks on cruise ships are somewhat common, there are natural ways to help keep from getting sick both at home and abroad.
Norovirus Sickens Over 1,000 Passengers on Royal Caribbean Cruise
Late last month, the Royal Caribbean Cruise returned to port carrying an estimated 600-1,000 passengers sick with Norovirus. This virus is one of the most common causes of acute gastroenteritis: inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been nine reported outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness aboard cruise ships last year alone, while 16 were reported in 2012. Norovirus has been said to be responsible for up to 71,000 hospitalizations each year and 700 deaths. One of the top reasons Norovirus and other viral outbreaks are so common on cruise ships is because everyone is in close quarters and it is quite easily spread.
Norovirus is a highly-infectious form of food poisoning. It usually begins by one or more persons eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. It then spreads through the air or by touch. This virus is especially difficult to eradicate because it can withstand hot and cold temperatures, as well as most disinfectants. To clean surfaces in infected areas, a chlorinated disinfectant is recommended.
The most common food sources of Norovirus are produce, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods such as salads, sandwiches, cookies, etc., or any other foods contaminated with the vomit or feces of an infected person. Often, lemon ice water is a hidden source of contamination as lemons and ice machines are frequently contaminated.
Even a handshake from an infected person can spread this disease.
Symptoms of Norovirus usually include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. A fever may also be present. The incubation period is 24-48 hours and tends to last anywhere from 1-6 days.
Protect Yourself from Norovirus Naturally
1. Say “No” to Ice and Lemons
When you eat out at a restaurant, avoid the lemons and the ice water. Lemons are often highly-contaminated with both Norovirus and coliform bacteria. They are simply sliced and put into your glass along with some ice that may have been sitting in an ice machine that hasn’t been cleaned in months! Perhaps the server who just placed a slice of lemon on your glass just cleaned off a table or two! Lemons are not usually washed like other fruits and vegetables as they are not usually entirely consumed.
2. Avoid the Buffet Line
When you’re eating out at a restaurant or on a cruise ship, it’s best to either completely avoid the buffet line or try to get there as early as possible when the food is fresh. Once everything has been ‘picked over’, you’ll have a much higher likelihood of coming down with whatever bug or virus the people before you have been carrying. Have you ever seen a spoon or fork on the buffet line fall back into the food? When new food is brought, the tray is rotated, but the same spoon or fork is used.
3. Eat Food at the Right Temperature
Another way to avoid Norovirus on cruise ships (and in other public places) is to eat food at the temperature it was meant to be served. Tepid food has been sitting out too long to be considered optimal and may be much more likely to be contaminated.
4. Keep Your Hands Clean
Personal hygiene goes a long way in preventing the spread of Norovirus and other communicable diseases. This is why it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly and often. However, I do advise avoiding soaps and antibacterial agents with the synthetic antibacterial agent, Triclosan. Triclosan has been proven to depress your immunity.
5. Strengthen Your Immune System
The most effective way to protect yourself from developing viral illness is to keep your immune system strong and healthy. This often starts with your diet. If your diet consists largely of processed foods, your immune system will not function properly. That’s because these foods fill your stomach but won’t give your body the nutrition it needs. Furthermore, these food-like-products contain synthetic additives and preservatives that may trigger chronic allergies and autoimmunity.
I recommend all my patients slowly wean off of processed foods and replace them with whole foods such as organic vegetables, fruit, beans, seeds, legumes, meat, poultry, wild-caught fish, eggs, yogurt, and healthy fats like butter and coconut oil.
A weakened immune system is often a sign of nutritional deficiencies. Even if you usually eat a very healthy diet, you could still be at risk for deficiencies due to a change in the nutritional content of our soil, produce, and meat. These deficiencies can be easily corrected by adding a high-quality multivitamin supplement and, if necessary, a vitamin D supplement.
You don’t have to be afraid to take a cruise. Avoid viral illness naturally by practicing good hygiene and keeping your immune system strong.