Sea Sick: Here’s the drill when the flu is aboard

Dec 23, 2019 by Keith Murray

Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

Flu season in the U.S. generally occurs between October and May, and typically peaks between December and February. Flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by viruses. Generally, when a flu-infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes airborne. This live virus can then be inhaled by anyone in the area. You can also get the flu if you’ve touched a contaminated surface like a telephone or a door knob, then touch your nose or mouth. 

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting. It is important to note that not everyone with influenza will have a fever, which is a temperature of 100 F (37.8 C) or greater. 

If a passenger or crew member has influenza-like illness (ILI) before leaving port they should be advised against traveling for at least 24 hours after the fever ends – without the use of fever-reducing medications. Passengers and crew with ILI who are already on board when symptoms begin should be medically evaluated and remain isolated in their cabins until at least 24 hours after their fever naturally ends.

When someone on board is sick, it is very important that all passengers and crew be reminded to wash their hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or about 20 seconds. 

Clean all surfaces on board, especially doorknobs, handrails, bathroom faucets, refrigerator handles, TV remote controls, computer keyboards, and toilets (including the seat and toilet handle). Cold and flu viruses can survive on these surfaces anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Individuals suspected of having the flu should be separated from other passengers and crew as much as possible, and should wear a face mask to prevent the airborne spread of the virus. If the sick individual shares a cabin with someone else, the healthy person should be moved to another cabin. To prevent the spread of the virus on board, spend as little time as possible with the sick person and  limit the number of people who visit the ill person. When possible, assign one person to deliver meals, medication and all other deliveries, and be sure the person delivering care wears a disposable mask and gloves.

Crew members and guests should be instructed in proper use, storage, and disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, N95 respirators and disposable gloves.

When sending a passenger or crew member with ILI to a medical facility, notify the facility in advance. Also, use care in transporting the sick person so as not to infect others along the way.

The CDC recommends flu vaccine as the first and most important step in preventing flu, but there is a second line of defense. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu in your body. Four FDA-approved antiviral medications are recommended for the 2019-2020 flu season: oseltamivir (available in generic versions and under the trade name Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab), and baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza). Check with your physician to see if these drugs should be kept on board your vessel if you will be away from medical care for more than a day or two. 

Most people who get sick from the flu will recover in 3-14 days, however some may become seriously ill. Complications such as ear and sinus infections can happen. More serious complications can include pneumonia; inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues; and multi-organ failure, such as respiratory and kidney failure.  In the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC estimated that 42.9 million people in the U.S. got sick, 647,000 people were hospitalized, and 61,200 died.

So, think about getting vaccinated against the flu, consult with a doctor about stocking antiviral drugs on board,  and seek qualified medical attention early when someone is sick.

EMT Keith Murray provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. His company can be found at Comments are welcome below.