To stay fit on a cruise, avoid the public restroom

Tue Nov 17, 2009 10:10pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Going on a cruise? To cut your risk of getting sick while sailing the high seas, avoid using the ship's public bathrooms.

Researchers have found that only 37 percent of 273 randomly selected public restrooms on cruise ships that were checked on 1,546 occasions were cleaned at least daily, with the toilet seat the best cleaned of six evaluated objects.

On 275 occasions no objects in a restroom were cleaned for at least 24 hours with baby changing tables found to be the least thoroughly cleaned object.

Researcher Philip Carling, of Carney Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said public toilet seats and flush devices, stall handholds and door handles, inner restroom door handles, and baby changing tables "on most, but not all, cruise ships" are not being cleaned and disinfected thoroughly.

"There was a substantial potential for washed hands to become contaminated while the passenger was exiting the restroom, given that only 35 percent of restroom exit knobs or pulls were cleaned daily," Carling said in a statement.

"Only disinfection cleaning by cruise ship staff can reasonably be expected to mitigate these risks."

Lack of disinfection, he and colleagues from the Cambridge Health Alliance and Tufts University School of Medicine, noted in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, may significantly increase risk for illness, and particularly for the severe diarrhea and vomiting caused by highly contagious norovirus.

Carling told Reuters Health that cruise passengers should minimize public restroom use, wash hands with soap and water rather than alcohol-based hand rubs, and be aware of the disease transmission potential from all publicly touched surfaces.

For the study, Carling's group enlisted 46 health professionals to check 273 randomly selected public restrooms daily during cruises between July 2005 and August 2008.   Continued...

<p>View of the cruise ship "Voyager of the Seas" carrying dozens of victims of swine flu among its 5000 passengers and crew is anchored in the bay of Villefranche sur Mer, southeastern France, July 31, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>