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Cruise Ships

How is sanitation on cruise ships monitored?

Cruise ships are inspected by the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) of the CDC. They do surprise inspections twice a year. Inspections focus on the water supply, the health of pools and spas, food and the risk for contamination of food and water. They also check the cleanliness and condition of the ship including the hygiene of the staff. They will also check the ships ventilation and medical facilities.

If a ship fails inspection, it will generally be reinspected within 30 to 45 days. However, if there is an imminent health risk, the VSP may recommend that the ship not sail. 

Before you set sail, you can check the cruise ship inspection reports on the VSP website. Check the "green sheet" for your cruise. This is a listing of all current inspection scores for active vessels in the program.   

Does a low score mean poor sanitation?

Generally, the lower the score, the lower the level of sanitation. But, a low score doesn't mean passengers will get sick. Ships are required to keep a gastrointestinal illness report for each cruise. They must report the number of cases of illnesses by dates of onset and total numbers of people affected.

If at least 3% or more of the passengers and/or crew members have gastrointestinal illness on a given cruise, the VSP may investigate.

How prevalent is gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships?

Given how many people enjoy cruises each year, the rate of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships is very low. But norovirus outbreaks continue to occur. Norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness spread by contaminated food and contact with an object or others who are infected.   

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Wanda Taylor RN PhD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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