Wash your hands after using the toilet and never share a towel: Experts reveal their top tips for avoiding norovirus on holiday

  • Passengers on Fred Olsen ship believed to have been hit by norovirus
  • The luxury cruise is operating between Southampton in the UK and the US
  • MailOnline chats to pharmacist Tom Kallis to get his tips on avoiding virus 

This week 252 passengers on the Fred Olsen ship Balmoral are believed to have been struck down by norovirus.

Almost a third of the 919 passengers on board suffered diarrhoea and vomiting after the outbreak on the luxury cruise between Southampton and the US.

But what precautions can holidaymakers take to avoid catching the contagious virus? And if it has been contracted, what's the fastest way to recover? MailOnline Travel talked to Boots UK pharmacist Tom Kallis and two doctors to find out the best way to keep norovirus at bay.

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This week 252 passengers on the Fred Olsen ship Balmoral are believed to have been struck down by norovirus (pictured)

This week 252 passengers on the Fred Olsen ship Balmoral are believed to have been struck down by norovirus (pictured)

Wash your hands after using the toilet

Norovirus outbreaks happen when lots of people are in a small area, including places such as nursing homes, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and cruise ships.

The virus can survive outside the body for two days, that's why it is essential that hands are washed after every visit to the lavatory.

Soap and water is an effective way of keeping the virus at bay and should always be used after a visit to the loo

Soap and water is an effective way of keeping the virus at bay and should always be used after a visit to the loo

WHAT IS NOROVIRUS? 

‘Norovirus’ is the collective name given to a highly contagious group of viruses which cause vomiting and diarrhoea, particularly during the winter months. 

Indeed, norovirus is sometimes called ‘winter vomiting bug’, as outbreaks peak from October to March.

'There's no excuse not to wash your hands after touching something others may have touched,' said 26-year-old Kallis, from Plymouth.

'And it goes without saying that after going to the toilet, this should be done at all times.'

You can catch norovirus if small particles of vomit or excrement from an infected person get into your mouth.

So it's worth remembering that if someone leaves the toilet without washing their hands, you can catch it just from opening the door to leave.

Use your own towel

The virus can be spread easily through towels, so using your own on a cruise ship or in a hotel will reduce your chances of catching it.

Kallis said: 'Using the same towel to dry your hands or face may seem a natural thing to do, but this is an easy way the virus can be passed on.

'Just as you'd have your own bedding, you should have your own towel too. This goes with after using the toilet too, don't share other people's towels.

'And obviously make sure the towels are washed regularly.' 

Having your own towel is a good idea to prevent the virus spreading
A buffet is the ideal place for the infection to spread

Using your own towel will help stop the virus spreading, while right, a buffet is the ideal place for the infection to breed

NOROVIRUS - LESSONS MUST BE LEARNT

Frank Brehany, Consumer Director of HolidayTravelWatch, told MailOnline: 'I am concerned to hear that the Balmoral Cruise ship has apparently been struck by the so-called norovirus infection. 

'Reports suggest that a large number of passengers have been affected along with some crew. All too often cruise passengers dismiss incidents like this on the basis that 'it is just one of those things'. 

'A reported incident like this raises questions over the quality of hygiene and indeed how the diagnosis of norovirus has been arrived at. 

'I would strongly urge any passengers affected by illness on this ship obtain an independent stool sample test at their earliest opportunity and whatever they do, not to accept anything on-board as 'compensation' for their experience without seeking independent advice. 

'The fact that the CDC are now involved is reassuring but action must be taken to ensure that this ship undergoes a thorough deep cleanse to prevent further infection.' 

Boots UK pharmacist Tom Kallis spoke to MailOnline to give his top tips for avoiding norovirus

Boots UK pharmacist Tom Kallis spoke to MailOnline to give his top tips for avoiding norovirus

Be hungry for food knowledge 

Many cruise ships, hotels and resorts have meal-time buffets - a breeding ground for the norovirus bug.

It can spread through the food and utensils, which are used by multiple people. 

'At a buffet it's really difficult to be in control - you don't know how and where much of the food has been prepared and many people are using the same equipment,' said Kallis.

'Pre-packed food is always better, or if you can, being able to see the preparation element of the food is the best way to avoid catching norovirus at meal times.

'But the best way would be to prepare your own food if possible.' 

Carry a hand sanitiser

In a packed environment such as a cruise ship, there won't be many places that haven't been touched multiple times by different people.

So carrying a hand sanitiser is a good way to ward off norovirus.

'Again, this comes down to hand hygiene, and being aware of the environment you are in and having that bit of control,' said Kallis.

'While nothing is better than soap and water, if you're are out and about, it's definitely a good idea to use a hand sanitiser.'

And Dr Lisa Ackerley added: 'Although it is impossible to remain completely germ-free at all times, there are times when hand cleanliness is critical, and there are ways to ensure you can protect yourself, even when on the go.

'Washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds is recommended and in addition, using hand gels with anti viral and anti bacterial properties.'

Take yourself away from the source

If one person comes into contact with norovirus, the chances of it spreading through a resort or cruise ship are high.

And if that person is a family member or friend, you are in the danger zone.

'We would obviously want to take care of our friends and family, try and help them get better, but sometimes you have to let them see it out,' said Kallis.

'The best thing to do would be to request having a separate cabin or room, so you can take yourself away from the virus.

'But if you have to share the room, follow the hand hygiene rules, and try and keep your distance - it is such a contagious virus.'

And if you're unlucky enough to have contracted norovirus...

'The bug can last between 48 and 72 hours, but the timespan, as well as how seriously people can be affected varies,' added Kallis.

'Symptoms include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and people can develop a fever.

'There will also be de-hydration, so it is vital to try and drink as much liquid as you can.'

Kallis adds that sufferers should not force themselves to eat, but instead try and drink juices that contain vitamins and minerals to aid recovery. 

Dr Roger Henderson added: 'It is dehydration rather than the virus itself that can be particularly dangerous, especially with the young and elderly, as this can cause loss of both water and essential minerals. 

'An oral rehydration sachet is recommended to help the body replace the sugar, salt and minerals lost to dehydration and to help speed up the recovery process.'

And the key treatment directed by all the experts? Rest. 

WAVES OF ILLNESS ON THE BALMORAL 

The norovirus is thought to have struck 252 people on the Balmoral, currently on a 34-night 'Old England to New England' cruise, prices for which start at £1,800.

While the ship was docked in Virginia it was boarded by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officers who assessed the situation and gathered specimens.

Norovirus outbreaks happen when many people are in a small area, including places such as nursing homes, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and cruise ships (file photo)

Norovirus outbreaks happen when many people are in a small area, including places such as nursing homes, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and cruise ships (file photo)

The CDC issued a statement on the outbreak, although Fred Olsen has since downplayed it by claiming that there were just seven guests in isolation, out of a total of 1,434 guests and crew.

It also dismissed reports the ship, which left the UK on April 16, had been quarantined.

The statement said: 'A gastro-enteritis type illness has affected a number of guests on board.

'There are currently just seven guests in isolation, out of a total of 1,434 guests and crew on board, and the incidences have substantially reduced.

'There are two US nationals on board this cruise, with the majority of guests being from the UK.'

The crew has stepped up cleaning and disinfection procedures. 

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