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Not Cruisin' for the Flu

By Carol Sottili
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page P03

Q My husband and I are in good health and don't qualify for a flu vaccine. Given past problems with norovirus, etc., on cruise ships, what, if anything, are cruise lines doing to address obvious concerns for flu outbreaks?

Ginger Howard


AAfter reading the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's info sheets on cruise ship illnesses, I felt compelled to scrub my hands -- repeatedly. "Wash your hands frequently throughout the day, even if you think they don't need to be washed," the CDC advises, and for good reason.

Cruise ships, with their captive audience, can become a perfect place to transmit contagious diseases. But norovirus and flu are spread quite differently. Flu, a respiratory illness, is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs and others breathe the same air. Norovirus, which causes a gastrointestinal illness, is contained in the stool and vomit of infected individuals and is spread by eating or drinking virus-contaminated food or by touching contaminated surfaces.

In August 1999, the CDC published guidelines for the prevention and control of influenza-like illness among passengers and crew on cruise ships, which suggested that crew members receive flu vaccinations and that ships carry diagnostic kits and antiviral medication. Steve Williams, medical director for Carnival Cruise Lines, said all major lines, including Carnival, follow the CDC guidelines. This year, however, because of the vaccine shortage, only Carnival crew members who meet the high- risk criteria are getting shots. Several other cruise lines, including Cunard and Holland America, have procured enough flu vaccine to innoculate all crew members. Williams also pointed out that alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill the flu virus, but hand-washing is effective against both the flu and norovirus.

The CDC keeps public records about gastrointestinal illness outbreaks aboard specific ships. It also inspects and gives sanitation scores to each ship. Details: 770-488-7070, www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/default.htm.

QMy husband and I are attending a wedding in Oakland, Calif., in March. We'd like to take our two children, 2 and 4. Do you have any suggestions on airfares, lodging, food, attractions and activities that would give us the most bang for our limited bucks?

Sabrina Nero


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