We get asked this question all the time, especially this time of year. People who have never cruised before are very concerned about getting sick because of what they hear on the news. Unfortunately, as usual, the press does not present the whole picture, so people are left with only part of the story.
Here's an interesting graph;
Believe it or not, of all these places where norovirus is most common, the only one required to report it to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) are the cruise lines! And yet, as you can see, they represent one of the smallest section of the graph.
There was a story on the news a few weeks ago and they did a study to see where people going to a restaurant would pick up the most germs. They checked the tables, chairs, toilets, door handles, etc. What was interesting is where they found the most germs and it was where most people would not think about; the menus! Everything else is usually wiped down on a regular basis, but no one thinks to wipe down the menus or thinks much about handling them.
So the moral of the story was that after sitting down, handling the menu, and ordering your meal, you should wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer before picking up that piece of bread.
Another thing that was interesting is that they said it takes approximately 1800 germs to get the flu but only takes 18 germs to get the norovirus. (I could be off slightly on those numbers, but I think that's pretty close.) They also said a flu germ only lasts on the surface for a couple of hours, but a norovirus germ can last a couple of weeks. Nasty stuff this norovirus.
But as is usually pointed out, it's the second most common bug that we get, next to the common cold. Alot of people are scared to go on a cruise because of what they read in the press about people getting it on ships. But as I said earlier, cruise lines are the only ones required to report it to the CDC. Yet it's more common on airplanes, malls, hospitals, schools, buses, subways, elevators, etc. and none of these places are required to report it. When was the last time you saw someone disinfecting the handrail on the escalator at your local mall? Yet you always see them wiping down handrails on a ship.
Bottom line is, wash your hands constantly. It's really is the best and easiest prevention. Don't touch surfaces and then touch your mouth or eyes. Carry a small container of hand sanitizer to use when you can't wash your hands. Use sanitizer on shared items such as phones, keyboards, etc.
But don't stop thinking about a cruise because of the norovirus. Personally, I'd be more aware of problems in other public areas that aren't constantly being cleaned.