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Planes, Trains, and …Germs?

Travel Health Risks You Can -- and Can't - Avoid

Off on a Cruise, the Germs Don't Snooze continued...

"Cruise ships provide an entirely different environment. You are there for days, dependent on them for all your meals, and on the ship crew for hygiene," he says. "You are thrown in with many more people than on an airplane, so there is a much greater chance of communicable disease being present. … And some viruses just go ape when they get on a cruise ship with a lot of people."

Such viruses tend to be the notorious noroviruses. Noroviruses cause what many people call "stomach flu" -- although these bugs have nothing at all to do with the flu. What they do is cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. And they spread like wildfire. All it takes is for you to touch a contaminated surface and then touch your mouth.

Because of the recent rash of norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, the CDC keeps a close watch. Lisa Beaumier is a public health analyst with the CDC's vessel sanitation program. Beaumier says noroviruses are likely everywhere, not just on cruise ships.

"Norovirus is not tracked in the normal public. But cruise ships are required to report to us, so anyone who visits the medical center on a ship, the doctor or nurse will report all cases to us," Beaumier tells WebMD.

So how do you protect yourself from norovirus infection? Beaumier's main advice is going to sound familiar.

"One main thing is to wash your hands before eating, smoking, touching your face, or going to the bathroom -- and using hand sanitizers in conjunction with hand washing," she says. "Other things you can do is if you see someone get sick, with vomiting or diarrhea, you should leave the area because you could get sick from contaminated air. If you see someone with diarrhea in the bathroom, you should leave and notify the ship staff."

You can actually see up-to-date health reports on all ships sailing from U.S. ports -- and a list of all ships getting a perfect score -- at the CDC's vessel sanitation program web site.

Down in the Train, the Germs' Domain

Maybe, after thinking about airplanes and ships, you've decided to postpone your vacation and go back to work. And maybe you'll be taking the subway. That's how occupational health and safety specialist Robyn Gershon, DrPh, gets to work at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

Gershon didn't start out looking at germs. She got interested in subways when she heard reports of hearing loss among transit workers. While studying the issue, she decided to look at other subway health issues. What she found was … not much. It turns out there's very little scientific information on infectious disease in the subways.

"Subway systems are big public-use spaces," Gershon tells WebMD. "There are 14 big U.S. subway systems and millions and millions of riders. For any number of reasons, there are health hazards. But there is this huge volume of people, and we are not studying it."

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