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Handling injury or illness on a cruise ship

Medical facilities on a cruise ship deal with a variety of illnesses and injuries and vary widely depending on the ship size, itinerary, length of cruise and passenger demographics. The most frequently documented cruise ship outbreaks involve respiratory infections such as influenza and legionnaires’ disease. 

Shipboard medical clinics can provide medical care comparable to that of ambulatory care centres, meaning emergency care for both passengers and crew can be given, patients can be stabilised, reasonable diagnostics can be initiated and therapeutic interventions can be carried out, as well as the evacuation of seriously ill or injured patients.

Before your journey

You may also find that some ships conduct pre-embarkation medical screening to identify ill passengers before boarding. Prior to your journey, it is advised that you check relevant websites for any outbreaks or travel/health notices. 

Although most cruise ship passengers are from countries with routine vaccination programs, many crew members originate from developing countries with low immunisation rates, making the chances of catching measles or rubella, for example, higher than usual. Therefore, it’s important you make sure your medical vaccinations are up to date before travelling.

It is advised if you require special medical needs, such as wheelchairs, oxygen tanks or dialysis, that you should inform your cruise line provider before travelling. You should also carry a written summary of essential health information that would help the medical professionals during a medical emergency.

All prospective cruise passengers should consider purchasing additional insurance to cover any medical or health services in additional countries.

During your journey

While on board, regularly wash your hands, especially before and after meals, as well as when using the communal toilets. If you become ill during the voyage, you should seek the relevant treatment in the ship’s medical centre. 

In spite of modern remedies, seasickness is a common complaint. Additionally, the stresses of cruise ship travel - varying weather and environmental conditions, as well as unaccustomed changes in diet and physical activity - can result in illness or injury, so monitor changes in yours and any members of your party’s behaviour. Foreign travel also tends to increase the likelihood of risk-taking behaviours, such as alcohol abuse, drug use and unsafe sex, so make sure you don’t go overboard as you don’t want to spend your whole holiday stuck in the cabin.