Going on a cruise? To cut your risk of getting sick while sailing the high seas, avoid using the ship’s public bathrooms, according to a U.S. study.
Researchers 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.
But the findings ran contrary to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which regularly inspects cruise ships, sometimes unannounced, to ensure vessels meet a required minimum inspection score of 85.
“The cruising industry takes the sanitation of its vessels and the mitigation of all gastrointestinal illnesses, including norovirus, very seriously,” said industry group the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in a statement.
The CLIA said the latest study into hygiene on cruise ships did not find any relationship between the thoroughness of disinfecting restrooms and outbreaks of illness on cruise ships.
In the study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, researcher Philip Carling, of Carney Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues from the Cambridge Health Alliance and Tufts University School of Medicine, said a lack of disinfectant may significantly increase the risk for illness.
Carling 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” were 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.”
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 monitors with ultra-violet lights to check 273 randomly selected public restrooms daily during cruises between July 2005 and August 2008. The ships mostly originated from U.S. ports.
Toilet seats were the best-cleaned object. Of the 2,010 toilet seats evaluated, 50 percent had been cleaned. They found 42 percent of toilet flush devices, 37 percent of toilet stall doors, and 31 percent of stall handhold bars had been cleaned.
Only 35 percent of interior bathroom door handles and 29 percent of baby changing tables had been cleaned.