Complete Guide of Health on a Cruise (and What to Do if You Get Sick)

Complete Guide to Health on a Cruise (and What to Do if You Get Sick)

Oh, what a pain! Call the Doctor!

Be on board, be happy and be contented. Take your camera in your hand, with a smile on your face and be ready to spend one or two days in high seas of the ocean, savor the delicacies of the buffet, visiting fantastic places and suddenly… Whoosh! You fall from a ladder and break your leg or start to feel the first symptoms of the flu, or can’t get out of the box due to diarrhea or not to puke … If you are afraid of getting sick during your cruise, reads this article for prevention such situations!

It is true that there is no guarantee even being a healthy person cannot get sick during a cruise. But I guarantee that if this happens, you don’t need to worry too much because the cruise ships today are authentic sea cities with doctors and nurses available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to take care of passengers. It is true that these teams are not empowered to deal with emergencies (since most of the problems on board resolves itself with pills for nausea, remedies for a stomach pain, pills to treat constipation, dressings, etc) but in the event of serious illness, cruise crew disembarked the passenger as soon as possible and forward him to a facility on land and so that he may obtain health care in a more specialized manner. And, if needed, the patient is sent by helicopter. However, the less serious cases are treated on board, since doctors in ships can provide advanced life support, emergency cardiovascular care, and minor surgical procedures.

So… Can I get sick on a cruise?

Yes, you can! In a more confined area such as a ship, the germs can spread quickly. Now, on a ship with 2,000 passengers or more, it will be difficult to contain an epidemic disease such as the Norovirus (which we will discuss further on) which is a highly contagious gastrointestinal disease that became widespread with cruise ships, although it can appear in other public places such as schools. In addition, there is always a person who has more tendency to colds, flu, and food poisoning.

What to do if you get sick on a cruise?

If you start to feel bad, do not hesitate to visit the ship’s doctor since most of the problems on board have a quick and free solution. For example, virotic diseases and nausea are treated with pills distributed at no cost. For the treatment of other diseases, it is convenient to have a health insurance, and if the subject is serious, disembark at the next port of call. In more remote areas, hospitals may not have the same standards of medical care or facilities available like you used to. You need to find a way to return home as soon as possible.

Should I check my health insurance before boarding?

Yes, you should. Check with your insurance company what kind of protection are included to cover health expenses in the cruise and/or ports. Most plans don’t cover medical services on board and should protect yourself with some extra expense for your cruise vacation. Alternatively, you can make a travel health insurance with tourist operators, representatives of cruise lines and travel agents or even an online broker that sells a plan suited to your needs. In fact, acquiring a travel insurance is one of the most important things at the time of planning the cruise, because it guarantees your health and your mind will be clear during the holiday. For example, the multi assistance travel insurance offers full coverage: compensation for theft, loss and breakage of equipment such as cameras or mobile phones during the trip, compensation for death or disability, delay or cancellation of the cruise, accidents or illnesses while traveling, medical consultations, hospitalization, surgical intervention, repatriation, legal assistance or legal return of anticipated problems at home and urgent calls to family members. To hire this type of assistance, will make you enjoy the cruise without worrying about absolutely nothing, go online and look for an online insurance broker that can help you.

What to do if an emergency happens?

Yes, A cold is tolerable, but what if it’s a serious injury due to fall on deck? A heart attack? How does the cruise ships deal with these situations?  Well, first, the policies of cruise lines define the conditions under which the passengers can embark. The medical team of the ship has criteria for determining whether a passenger can continue the trip or not. In serious situations, the doctors can decide to transfer the patient to a health facility at any port at the expense of passenger. The transfer can be made immediately by helicopter if the case is critical. On emergency cases, patients are accompanied by emergency treatment doctors. Some cruise lines also use telemedicine to help patients. The technology allows doctors to connect the earth to gain access to experts and data that can help to treat patients on board.

What diseases can I get easily on a cruise?

Norovirus and nausea are the most common diseases but they are not the only ones! Falls and heart problems are also quite common and represent a significant percentage of medical consultations on board. Do you want to learn some ways to identify symptoms and prevent?

Heart problems on a cruise ship

The heart problems on board are normally associated with drinking large amounts of alcohol and having excess food. Note that an abusive meal can cause inflammation of the coronary artery, a common prelude to a heart attack. Large quantities of food and alcohol can cause a fatal abnormal heart rhythm. Most of the deaths on cruises are due to heart problems. But luckily these cases are rare.

Sea sickness

Larger ships are equipped with modern technology to prevent swing, but there is still a possibility of a person to get seasick with the movement of water, especially if he also get sick when traveling by car. Regardless of whether you have a tendency or not to get sick, it may be convenient to consult your doctor before boarding ask your doctor what you can take in case of vomiting and nausea before your travel, and take this medicine with you. If you do not take medicines for seasickness and start feeling sick should follow these tips:

  • Unpack your baggage after the ship stops.
  • Consume the least amount of liquid as possible.
  • Eat only fruit and bread.
  • Avoid remaining inside the ship, put yourself on deck in airy place.
  • Don’t let your eyes to follow the movement of the ship – try to keep them looking at the horizon or another fixed reference point.
  • Press the belly button with the thumb during 15/20 seconds and repeat every 5 minutes.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly.
  • Chew gum or breath mints.

However, it is more likely that you won’t feel seasickness because modern ships have a stabilization system that reduces swing unless the sea is agitated. Don’t worry.

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

You can get sick anywhere with the presence of contact – transmitted disease. Continuous hygiene helps to fight against these viruses that can be found in various places of passengers from different locations, but you can’t avoid them at all.

The cruise ships are clean, with hygiene and cleaning measures, it is not expected you to get sick. But, if you catch Gastroenteritis, you can go to the medical station where you will receive immediate help.


A cruise may expose you to some nasty infections. The Norovirus is the main virus that is so common on ships so it is called “the cruise ship virus”. It causes vomiting and diarrhea and scrupulous hygiene is the only way to prevent this highly contagious disease. Wash your hands after every trip to the bathroom and before each meal. If you can, use a disinfectant. If you still get the disease, the good news is that it will go in a day or two.


A common problem on trips is diarrhea caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Always be aware of the safety and quality of what we eat. Note the basic hygiene measures, it never hurts to repeat: wash your hands with soap and water or use an antiseptic solution often and drink treated water stored in sealed containers or make sue it is coming from a reliable source. Avoid adding ice of unknown origin to drinks and make sure that the food you eat is well cooked. Perishable foods should be refrigerated.

Mosquito-borne diseases

This kind of disease is usually associated with the rural tourism, but it can also occur on a cruise, depending on the area where you’re going. If you think it is risky, use protective clothes against insect bites such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and closed-toe shoes and/or use insect repellent on exposed areas of the skin, as per the recommendations on the label.

Diseases transmitted by other animals

Some species of birds and mammals can also transmit diseases if the places you will visit allows a close contact with animals. And attention! If you suffer aggression of domestic mammals (dog bite, for example), immediately wash the area with soap and water and seek medical attention.

May I be a victim of medical malpractice?

Hardly, but if it happens you should live with it. Yes, you can sue the cruise line but possibly you will lose. Do you know why? Because, cruise ships cannot be sued – even indirectly –for the negligence of a doctor since they are not clinics or hospitals.

Medical Center of Cruise Ships…

OK, most of the ships have a medical center, with a doctor and nurse 24 hours a day at your service. However, the medical center neither has a responsibility to treat existing disease or nor solve major accidents (Medical centers forwards those cases to the nearest hospital). Consultations and medicines are billed to passengers.

Where and what are the characteristics of these medical services?

The medical center is typically located on a lower floor of the ship. The center contains several beds and is configured to treat minor medical issues such as flu, norovirus, gastrointestinal diseases, sickness, and injuries. The capabilities of the medical center of a ship vary depending on the size and passenger capacity of the. But regardless of size, the ship must contain appropriate equipment to handle a wide range of treatments and diagnostics. Among its equipment, the center has wheelchairs, stretcher, a back plate for immobilization of spine, laboratory, oxygen tubes, defibrillators, electrocardiogram, heart monitors and other equipment to measure vital signs.

There’s only one doctor on board?

That is not the case! The medical personnel on board is usually based on the passenger capacity and crew size of each ship. Smaller ships have at least one licensed physician and a nurse, larger ships may have two or three licensed physicians and five nurses.

What is the training of medical staff?

The team will be able to perform advanced life support practices, emergency cardiovascular care, and minor surgical procedures. Doctors and nurses are also required to be fluent in the predominant language of the ship. Medical personnel (doctors and nurses) must have at least three years of experience in general medicine and emergency.

What medications are available on board?

The ships have an onboard pharmacy but medicine prices are high and it is not always possible to find a certain medicine. In this sense, you may want to take most used medicines with you. Put your daily medicine in your handbag since delivery of the luggage to your cabin can take some time. If you are taking medicine that requires a prescription, make sure you take the necessary amount needed for the entire journey. We recommend that you also take pills for seasickness even if it is a rare situation. Don’t forget that, the price of medicines is high in cruise clinics.

Where to store my medicines?

The cabins are equipped with minibars that are meant to keep the temperature of beverages. Use them to store your medication except for medications that have specific temperature requirements. If you need to store medications that require better cooling than minibar, there are places available on board in limited quantities with increased costs.

What are the rates of medical services?

Receiving medical treatment or purchasing medicines on a ship is subject to cost, However, these invoices may be submitted to your insurance company for possible reimbursement. The doctors on board are self-employed and have the right to provide services at a rate that can vary from ship to ship.

Prevention is better than cure

Nowadays, any cruise has a medical team on board to deal with health problems that may arise during the trip. Let us see some precautions for you before, after and during the trip.

1- Precautions before the trip

  • Before boarding, read this article.
  • Investigate the differences between your culture and the culture you will visit and learn exactly what cautions must be taken for your health during the trip.
  • If you have a disease, even if it’s not complicated, consult your doctor to know if there is any problem going a cruise.
  • If you have an acute infectious disease, avoid travel on cruises.
  • If you need to take medicines for the cruise, bring the prescription with you.
  • If you have chronical medication, be sure to acquire the medicines needed for the entire journey before boarding.
  • Update your vaccines as per the immunization schedules of the National Immunization Program of the Ministry of Health. Public stations offer effective free vaccines.
  • At the time of registration of the vaccination, make sure that you have noted the batch number of vaccine, date of vaccination and the location where it was serviced.
  • Note the vaccines that have an expiration date to achieve the expected protection, which can vary between 10 days and six weeks. So, take the vaccines in advance as required. In the case of vaccination against yellow fever, failure to comply with the term of protection can prevent your entry into some countries.
  • Make sure to carry health insurance documentation and other useful contact information for quick help in emergency situations.

2- Care during the journey

  • If you experience any type of change to your body, please report immediately to the crew. All necessary measures will be taken, and if necessary, the nearest health services will be alerted and informed about the situation.
  • During the entire trip, it is necessary to be careful with food. Avoid foods that do not have the necessary hygiene care.
  • Keep good hygiene, including washing hands often with soap and water or using antiseptic solution.

3- Care after the trip

  • As soon as dismemberment, if you have symptoms of illness in your body such as fevers, diarrhea, skin problems, respiratory difficulties, and others, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible, informing him about all the places you have been and all the food/beverage you have taken

And now the good news: Although health and safety incidents occur on board a ship, they are relatively rare. So, if you assume you have a duty to protect yourself as much as possible, the cruise line assumes that you have the right to have fun like never before! Your chances of getting sick are low and reading this article, even lower the risk of getting sick on board.

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