Sick women in her bed

The 4 Most Common Contagious Diseases on a Cruise Ship

There have been numerous cases of cruise ship companies cutting cruises short, and the number one reason has been viral outbreaks making hundreds of passengers ill. No one likes thinking about the possibility of getting sick while on vacation, but it happens more often than you realize. That is why Blue Cross offers various travel insurance plans that cover emergency medical expenses while you’re out of the country, in addition to other unexpected events that could potentially disrupt a trip. The following are the four most common contagious diseases on a cruise ship:

Gastrointestinal illnesses

The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that most of the gastrointestinal disease occurrences on cruise ships are associated with the consumption of contaminated food or water. The most common virus detected to date is the norovirus, which is easily spread from one passenger to another. Other common gastrointestinal illnesses are caused by E. coli and Salmonella. More detailed information is found on the WHO webpage on international travel and health.


The WHO reports that influenza, a respiratory tract infection, is common on cruise ships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that influenza or similar illnesses can occur at any time of year and are not seasonal. That is a reflection of the fact that cruise ship passengers come from countries around the world that are experiencing different seasons. The signs and symptoms of influenza range from mild to life-threatening. Having a travel insurance plan can relieve the financial stress of dealing with out-of-province medical expenses.

Legionnaires’ disease

Legionnaires’ disease (legionellosis) is a form of pneumonia that can be life-threatening. It is caused by a bacterium that thrives in water and the disease is likely environmentally related. For example, the bacterium might be in water vapor emitted by an air conditioning system, meaning that everyone on the cruise ship is potentially exposed. There is a second type of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever, which causes influenza-like symptoms.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is yet another common virus transmitted in contaminated food, water, or fecal matter. Symptoms first appear flu-like, but left untreated, the virus can lead to severe liver damage. Food and water can be contaminated when people who handle food do not properly wash their hands after using bathrooms. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) has prepared a summary on how to stay healthy on a cruise.

There are many illnesses that can occur while on a cruise. When sickness leads to trip cancellation hotel accommodations and pre booked excursions also require cancellation. Using Blue Cross travel insurance gives cruise ship passengers (and any other traveller) peace of mind, even outside of their country of origin. The best advice to take is this: Always have travel insurance before stepping on board a cruise ship.