It’s Your Health: Viruses don’t just cruise around

Persnickety, perhaps … but I’ve had “flat-on-my-back-with-a-bucket-next-to-the-bed” food poisoning. I’ve also endured typhoid fever compliments of a Florida lake but that’s another article. So I’m cautious about putting anything in my mouth without first inspecting it and that starts with silverware.

At restaurants, I habitually but discreetly clean my silverware with a napkin. I’ve probably done this for eons but I vividly remember an incident at a small, expensive, family owned restaurant in North Carolina.

The dining room had just opened for dinner and the two of us were the only ones seated. While sipping our wine, we noticed a young girl — probably the owners’ daughter or granddaughter — slowly but methodically placing the silverware next to the plates. Good training.

Closer observation revealed something I hope none of you will ever experience. Before the little five-year-old meticulously placed each utensil, she licked it up, down and sideways.

It’s not likely you’ll experience that scenario, but the point is that you don’t know what happens before you receive your food when dining out or on a cruise.

One would hope everyone involved in food preparation and service is diligent about sanitation and food safety but we all know that’s not happening!

The cruise industry is a prime example and ships from most major lines took a hit from Norovirus this past year … Cunard, Princess, Celebrity, Regent Seven Seas, Norwegian, Carnival, and Holland America. Tons of ship, tons of people, and tons of food.

Noroviruses affect the stomach and intestines with cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, and often chills, fever, headache, nausea, and muscle aches. Outbreaks occur more often where people congregate in small areas, such as restaurants, nursing homes, catered events, and cruise ships. You wouldn’t equate small with cruise ships but remember, surfaces contaminated by ill people transmit the disease.

Also, health officials track illnesses on cruise ships so outbreaks are found and reported more quickly than on land. Close living quarters and new passenger arrivals might expedite the process.

What can you do to avoid tummy turmoil on land or sea? Be a hand washing fool, report anything that shouldn’t be happening, and hope for the best.

In restaurants, if the bathroom is dirty, well, you know the rest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inspect and score ships regularly. Scores of 85 or lower are not satisfactory. I wouldn’t sail them for free.

Twenty ships received the top score of 100 this year. How did your favorite liner fare?

Princess led the pack with seven, Norwegian with three, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean with two, and Carnival, Disney, Crystal, Holland America, Oceania, and Regent (formally Radisson) one. Plummeting on the other end was Nautilus Explorer with a score of 74 (June 24) and Stad Amsterdam at an alarming 56 (March 29). That’s one big sailing Petri dish!

For more information check out or call 800-232-4636 or 800-311-3435. Now wash your hands!


Kay Sager is a certified fitness and aquatic specialist living at Port of the Islands. She is a personal trainer using land and water fitness and teaches swimming. She also has written articles for Physician and Sports Medicine among other publications. Kay can be reached by e-mail:

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