Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and a few other cruise lines have temporarily suspended all of their Mexican ports of call, even though none of these ports have reported any cases of swine flu. Some cruises on the West Coast have substituted San Diego in place of the Mexican ports. Never mind that swine flu actually has been reported in San Diego.
Swine Flu is just like the Norovirus on Cruise Ships: Exaggerated. The Norovirus is a 48 hour bug that gives you diarrhea and makes you vomit. Of course it’s no fun if you catch it, but it always sounds so bad to hear that a “Cruise Ship is Infected.” The truth is that people catch the Norovirus everyday on land, but most of the cases on land go unnoticed or unreported.
But an outbreak on a cruise ship never goes unreported. The ship’s confined environment makes it easy to track the number of infected people and the ship’s infirmary is actually required to keep a running total of passengers who complain of diarrhea or vomiting. When 3% of the onboard population report the same ailment, it’s considered an “outbreak” and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is notified. Once it’s reported to the CDC, the media pounces.
I worked on board the Holiday, a Carnival ship, when it was infected with the Norovirus for three consecutive cruises. I didn’t get sick, but I knew lots of crewmembers that did. To contain the disease, sick crewmembers were quarantined to their cabins while the healthy ones conducted a massive ship wide sanitation program. Every hand rail, every elevator button, every door handle, and anything else that people touched was wiped down with a bleach-based disinfectant. Individual casino chips were cleaned by hand. And on that last cruise, we had it contained. At its worst, 6% of the crew and 8% of passengers were infected which was less than 200 people total. And yet, news vans were parked at the pier to interview the passengers as they left the ship. And the news stories they ran made the "outbreak"sound much worse than it really was.
And that, is what has happened with Swine flu – it sounds worse than it really is. Yes people have died from it, and that’s awful, but flu deaths are nothing new. Every year, 36,000 people die from the flu – not swine flu, just regular flu that almost everyone has or will catch at some point in their life.
36,000 is a big number, but let’s put it in perspective:
306,000,000 – Population of the U.S.
435,000 – deaths from Tobacco
365,000 – deaths from poor diet and physical inactivity
85,000 – deaths from Alcohol
43,000 – deaths from car accidents
36,000 – deaths from the flu
Source: drugwarfacts.org and car-accidents.com
That’s one hundredth of one percent of the U.S. population that dies from the flu, whether it’s swine flu or regular flu.
Even so, I think canceling the Mexican ports is a smart business move by the cruise lines. And I bet the on board housekeeping departments are doing extra shifts with their bleach rags to prevent an outbreak. If swine flu were to infect a ship, it would likely spread quickly and probably lead to a cancelled sailing while the ship was disinfected. And with all the recent hype, the cruise line would be sure to get a lot of bad publicity. This way, at least they can say they tried.