24/09/2015 10:43 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

How To Stay Healthy On A Cruise Ship This Summer

Cruise ship in Tallinn

There’s no doubt Australians love to cruise; no surprises that we’re a nation of people who love to relax in the sun next to a giant body of water. In fact, more than one million of us took to the seas last year, so Australia leads the world in terms of growth in cruise passenger numbers and market penetration.

According to Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA) 38 ships from its member cruise lines will sail in our waters this summer, with an unprecedented eight ships making their maiden voyage. Over the 2014-15 summer cruise period, 36 CLIA member cruise ships visited Australia, including three ships making their inaugural visit.

CLIA Australasia Commercial Director Brett Jardine told The Huffington Post Australia the growth in maiden ship visits was another clear indicator of the surging popularity of cruising.

“The sea is a very powerful attraction. It’s very exciting being out on the open ocean and when you look at what a cruise holiday delivers, you can effectively do as much or as little as you want. If you’re active, there are plenty of activities on-board, but you also have the option to do nothing and totally relax,” Jardine said.

“Aussies are avid travellers, it’s part of our psyche. So when people look for holiday options with good value that includes transport, accommodation, meals, entertainment and activities, Australians cannot get enough of cruising. So that works to encourage more cruise lines to send more ships our way.”

But cruise-lovers should keep in mind that the ships are essentially floating cities and it doesn’t take much for a virus to spread amongst its holiday makers.

In April 2015, 112 people aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity contracted gastrointestinal illness, with guests and crew suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea and related symptoms.

So what can you do to ensure your floating oasis doesn’t turn into a buoyant germ incubator?

Here’s some tips from Phil Sylvester, Travel Safety Specialist from Travel Insurance Direct.

Tell the truth before you board

Have the sniffles or an upset stomach? Make sure you see a doctor before your holiday starts and let the crew know that you’re not feeling 100 percent once you board. It might mean you need to rest up for a few days before you lounge poolside with a mai tai, but this could mean the difference between a one-off case and a ship-wide outbreak.

Buy travel insurance

Medical treatment or evacuation could become costly for a passenger if you haven’t taken out travel insurance. Medicare coverage no longer applies once your ship leaves port, even if you don’t leave Australian waters or visit another country.

Use on-board sanitisers

The only thing you’ll see more of than glitzy on-ship entertainment, are no-touch sanitiser dispensers. You’ll see these on every corner of the ship, particularly at the entrance to dining rooms and restaurants. Don’t think these are purely decorative -- use them obsessively.

Wash your hands frequently.

Don’t let your new-found obsession with hand sanitiser be your only line of defence. "Hand washing is one of the cheapest and most effective health measures known," said Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. Ensure you use warm soapy water and rigorously wash your hands front and back for at least 30 seconds.

Avoid the public bathrooms

Make sure you use the ensuite in your cabin to avoid coming in contact with other passengers who may not have the same level of cleanliness as you.

Don’t share plates or cutlery

It might be polite of the woman in front of you in the buffet line to pass you a plate, but what else is she sharing with you in the process? Eliminate your risk of contracting unwanted bacteria by picking up your own plates, cutlery or glassware.

Use your knuckles to press buttons

Elevator buttons, ATM machines and drink dispensers are all accessed by our fingers, but it’s those little touchpads at the end of our digits that become the transportation vehicle for germs. Get in the habit of using your knuckles to press buttons, as your knuckles are less likely to come in contact with bacteria.

What to do if you get sick on board:

Head to the pharmacy. Most major cruise lines will have an on-board pharmacy where you can pick up over-the-counter meds for an upset stomach, cold and flu, or sea sickness.

Head to the infirmary If you’re worried that it’s something more serious. These are staffed 24 hours a day and must adhere to the Cruise Line International Association’s Standards of Care, as well as the American College of Emergency Physicians guidelines.

Respect quarantine procedures If you’ve come down with a contagious bug such as influenza or Norovirus, you may be required to go into quarantine. You’ll be isolated from other passengers and required to remain in your room and take your meals there until you are symptom free for 72 hours. You may be eligible for compensation from your cruise line for any pre-paid activities you missed.

Emergency evacuation: If you require emergency evacuation from the ship, cruise doctors will make arrangements for you to be transferred to a facility on land. However, medical treatment or emergency evacuation will be at the passenger’s expense, so make sure you're insured.

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