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If Sick, May It Be On A Cruise Ship

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been at least three reports of airlifting cruise passengers from ships for medical reasons…obviously emergencies.

A week ago, on the Carnival Triumph, an eight-month-old baby was having seizures and had to be airlifted to Houston.

Earlier in the month, a 51-year-old woman on the Carnival Magic was taken from the ship by helicopter 180 miles from Galveston after suffering from respiratory problems.

Also last month, near New Zealand, a 23-year-old passenger had a suspected heart attack and was flown from the Seabourn Odyssey to a hospital.

The bottom line is what one ship’s doctor told us last year.

“The best place to have a heart attack, or many other medical problems, is on a cruise ship,” he said. “You pick up the phone in your stateroom, call the medical center, and we’re in your room within minutes. And we have all the equipment needed to deal with such emergencies.”

And when necessary, to bring in a helicopter.

That doesn’t mean medical emergencies always have happy endings. It just means there’s a good chance that they will.

And of course this applies to the thousands of people who work on ships, too.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas
3 nights
April 24, 2015
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau, Coco Cay
Inside: $284
Cost per day: $94

Norovirus Sounds Cruise Ship Alarm

Until we’re told otherwise, we’re going to eliminate the word “norovirus” from our vocabulary. This move should not be taken lightly when you have a vocabulary as limited as ours. However, what’s one less word, even if there are others that should probably go first?

But norovirus is gone…or going.

Since you probably know something about cruising, it’s probably in yours. Whenever there is a norovirus alert, everybody from medical staff on the ship to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) goes into action. Picture the horns sounding and the lights flashing. Thankfully, it stops short of “Abandon Ship!”…at least until the CDC is on the scene.

Earlier this month, the alert was sounded on the Coral Princess as it sailed — with 66 passengers and three crew members “exhibiting signs of sickness” — into Fort Lauderdale, where it was met by the CDC. As a result, Princess increased cleaning and disinfecting its ship, made announcements to encourage passenger case reporting, prepare a ship-turnaround disinfection plan and make daily medical reports to the CDC.

Now, we don’t mean to make light because people became ill on a cruise ship. It happens. Nor do we minimize the importance of taking precautions. Put a few thousand people in these kind of close quarters, and if somebody’s contagious it’s likely to spread. It’s not the procedures, the reporting, the cleaning and the disinfecting that we find amusing. It’s not fun being sick, on a cruise ship or anywhere else.

It’s just the word. Norovirus has been called “a ribonucleic acid that causes approximately 90% of epidemic non-bacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world.”

Doctors we’ve talked to on cruise ships call it something else…GI, or gastrointestinal illness.

We call it the ‘flu.

No Time to Get Sick Cruising

The Right Price………………………………………………………….$471
Ship: Caribbean Princess, Southern Caribbean, 7 days
Departure: April 10 or April 24, 2011, return from San Juan, Puerto Rico
Ports: St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), Domenica, Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba
Contact: Princess Cruise Lines

* * *

Being sick on a cruise ship is always a problem. One or more of four things is going to happen:

(1) If you’re sick when you go through the embarkation process, you may not get past the medical officer, and there goes the $900 you spent on your cruise.
(2) If you get past the medical officer with a “clearance to continue” you may be quarantined and spent your week-long vacation in your cabin, plus have to pay for medical treatment.
(3) If you get sick after the ship leaves, cabin confinement and cost come into play again, unless it’s Norovirus, in which case cruise lines generally cover the cost of treating “outbreak” illnesses.
(4) If you’re sick before or during a cruise, you’re going to feel like spending too much time in your cabin.

And now it’s mea culpa time.

On at least three of our cruises, one of us (we’ll let you guess which one) boarded the ship while feeling “under the weather.” The under-the-weatherness was diagnosed as sinusitis and it wasn’t contagious. We know this because the person sharing the stateroom with him (oops) never caught it. Also because one of the doctors consulted (off the ship) said so.

But frankly, the contagiousness of the condition was overshadowed by the costliness. We’re just like everybody else. We didn’t go all that way and spend all that money to be turned away at the gangplank because of congestion, coughing or a case of the sniffles. We didn’t know that we would be turned away, we only knew that we could be.

The alternative? Take out insurance to cover that eventuality, and add “hundreds” of dollars to the cost of your vacation. Each. As we said, we’re just like everybody else.

Which ships? Which cruises? Are you kidding? We still don’t want them to know…would you?

Red's the Color…for Norovirus

In the hospital, when somebody calls “code blue” in most facilities that means “cardiac arrest” or something of similar severity. On cruise ships, “code red” is the highest of three color codes (green and yellow are 1 and 2), all of which have to do with sickness (norovirus) and/or cleanliness — even though in some places on land “code red” means fire.

The thing to remember about hearing “code red” when you’re cruising is that it’s not a panic situation.

Our colleague Phil Reimer, who writes a Ports and Bows column in newspapers across Canada and also does daily cruise blogs, experienced this first hand last week. On Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam, passengers were told the ship was sailing under a “code red.” The reason was that 21 of the 2,000-plus passengers were suffering from norovirus, a gastro-intestinal condition not unlike a case of the ‘flu.

To ship personnel, code red means the infected passengers are quarantined in their staterooms, the healthy passengers are not allowed to dish up their own food in the buffet, and the ship undergoes an extensive or “super” cleaning. On most ships, code red is implemented if there are five or more cases of norovirus on successive days.

The captain told Phil the Nieuw Amsterdam could sail around the world under a code red.

So if you’re on a ship and you hear “code red” — it’s nothing like a “code blue.”

Now, don’t you feel better already?

Food allergies and cruise ships

There was an unconfirmed report on the weekend that a 21-year-old Norwegian Epic passenger died at sea from a heart attack that was alleged to have been brought on by a food allergy. When the Epic returned to port in Miami, the investigation began, and already there is innuendo and rumor that the authorities will eventually validate or not.

The death, which was confirmed by Norwegian, brings attention to the whole issue of food allergies, whether they were a contributing factor or not. Most of us for years were ignorant of, and generally indifferent to, people with serious food allergies. Our family was never knowingly affected, but is now.

Today, we have a grandchild with celiac disease, which means she has intolerance for gluten, essentially wheat that is used in more of the food we eat than we imagined before her diagnosis. We have a son-in-law who is allergic to walnuts, and nuts of any kind are a big one for people with food allergies. A friend of ours, but for the quick insertion of an epipen would have been in worse trouble than he already was. He had asked about nuts in the food on the menu, but there was some obscure “nutty” ingredient that became a problem.

Forty years ago, it wasn’t so serious, or if it was we didn’t know it. Today, it is serious stuff and the people in the cruise business didn’t need this weekend’s misfortune to get its attention. In the end, however, it’s still buyer-beware, and the onus is on those of us with serious food allergies to make sure we ask all the right questions.

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