Harvard Women's Health Watch

Stomach bug

How to prevent norovirus from ruining your summer.

In February 2010, the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship departed from Charleston, South Carolina. The 1,800-plus passengers on board were looking forward to a fun-filled vacation in the sunny Caribbean. Instead, more than 400 of them spent their vacation in their cabin bathrooms, plagued by severe stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. The following year, more than 1,300 passengers on 14 cruise ships were stricken with the same gastrointestinal woes.

The illness that's often described as the "cruise ship sickness" is norovirus—a group of viruses that infect the stomach and intestines. Though norovirus has earned a reputation as a cruise-wrecker, it doesn't just strike at sea. It can spread wherever you share food or a confined space with a group of people including restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, and the airplane that transports you to your summer vacation destination. The CDC estimates that 1 in 15 Americans of all ages will become infected with norovirus each year.

SETTING OF 1,518 CONFIRMED NOROVIRUS OUTBREAKS, U.S.

2010–2011

Setting of 1,518 confirmed norovirus outbreaks, U.S.

Data source: CDC / Image: Thinkstock

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