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Dirty toilets and slapdash cleaning standards are responsible for the rapid spread of novovirus on cruise ships – and the hand sanitisers designed to reduce germs are powerless to prevent contamination, says US medical researchers.
In an attempt to stem the rise in outbreaks, cruise lines now routinely station hand sanitiser gels at restaurant entrances, but this simply does not work says a new study.
“It’s a tough virus,” said lead researcher Dr Philip Carling, pointing out that the pathogen can live on surfaces at room temperature for weeks “ It isn’t killed by alcohol hand rubs. Chlorine bleach is the only thing that works.”
For the study, the researchers tested public lavatories on 56 of the world’s largest cruise ships. Using a solution visible only under ultraviolet light, they marked the doors, toilet seats, flush buttons, hand holds and baby-changing tables in 273 facilities, then monitored them for five to seven days to see if the solution got cleared off.
The results were alarming, showing that only 37% of the public toilets tested were thoroughly cleaned every day, and in 18% of cases they remained uncleaned for more than 24 hours. On three of the ships, the baby changing tables were not cleaned at all during the monitoring period.
Leading cruise line Royal Caribbean International said it takes “numerous proactive steps to prevent, control and eradicate novovirus”, including “special cleaning of all ‘high-touch’ areas on the ship”.
“Those affected by the short lived illness generally respond well to treatment provided on board, and the illness itself usually resolves itself in 24 – 48 hours” said the cruise line.
Fred Olsen, which operates the twice-stricken Balmoral, said its public toilets were cleaned with chlorine based disinfectant on an hourly basis. In addition, it said, “every passenger must use the antimicrobial and cleansing foam sanitiser on entry to any restaurant or eating area”
Chris Haslam Times 22nd November 2009