For years I've commented on the incredibly thin, see through, toilet paper found on cruise ships, wondering if this thin and apparently very porous tissue is making passengers sick.
This weekend three cruise ships returned to US ports with sick passengers. While in the Falkands officials refused to let a sick ship dock. The primary suspect is a Norovirus outbreak on these cruise ships has caused the illness of hundreds of passengers and crew. This virus is transmitted by fecal contaminated food or water, person-to-person contact, or contaminated surfaces. It brings me back to my file cabinet where I know I have some cruise ship toilet paper filed away. But still, after an exhaustive search, the file from my last cruise is still missing..... You must be asking why would the TRAVEL BLOGGER bring home toilet paper from a cruise? Because I'm a firm believer that the thin toilet paper used on many, if not all, cruise ships today may be making people sick.
Think about it. Passengers have a bathroom hygiene routine that may be perfectly fine when using high quality toilet tissue found at your local supermarket. But that same habitual pattern may not be enough to overcome the thin single-ply biodegradable toilet paper used on cruise ships. Most cruise ships have sophisticated liquid waste handling systems and the toilet paper they use is specifically designed to dissolve quickly and not inhibit the treatment process. Cruise lines take the processing of all cruise ship waste products very seriously. And a variety of regulations, worldwide, national, and local are in place.
Another potential source of fecal contamination is the very aggressive flushing systems in cruise ship toilets. Many ship toilets use a vacuum suction to remove the waste from the toilet bowl. During this process I suspect that some small microscopic droplets of waste water from the bowl are sent into the air. (I read that this has already been investigated in residential bathrooms.) This may be one of the reasons why many of the cruise ship toilets I've seen have signs that ask you to close the lid before flushing. Some even place the flush button in a way that requires you to close the lid before flushing. But I wonder if even with the lid closed some very small droplets are sent airborne. The passenger may open the toilet during or immediately after the flush cycle to check to see it everything was removed. Releasing droplets that then fall on surfaces in the small bathroom space. These surfaces that are often warm and moist, conditions that would be prime for growth of the Norovirus.
Both these causes are complete speculation on my part. I have no evidence that these two issues are what are making passengers sick. I have to believe that cruise lines have studied these issues and their effects on passenger health.
I'll see if I can't track down more details from the Cruise Industry and keep you informed. Drop me a note if you have any info and I will pass it along here. -TravelBlogger
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