Controlling Contagious Infections

28 April 2009 By Kelly Sanford

It never fails; one crewmember comes down with the sniffles and within two weeks, the entire crew is in various stages of getting the bug or getting over it. Now that the ominous Swine Flu Virus is dominating international headlines, government authorities in the U.S. and European Union have issued travel advisories against visiting Mexico for nonessential reasons and the World Health Organization (WHO) is talking about the threat of a global pandemic – it’s a good time for yacht crew to consider some practical, common sense steps to help prevent infection from spreading on board.

The following tips include suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Red Cross.


  • -Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
  • -When you sneeze or cough, do not cover your face with your hands, but rather try to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or bury them in the crook of your arm, which does not typically come into contact with other surfaces the way your hands do.
  • -Make sure that used tissues are placed in a garbage can.
  • -Use latex gloves when handling the personal hygiene items of others during cleaning.
  • -Always use latex gloves when handling trash.
  • -If hand-washing dishes, be sure to use antibacterial soap and a sanitizing rinse (one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water).
  • -Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, especially when you have been exposed to a sick individual.
  • -Get flu shots and stay current on your vaccinations.
  • -Request a supply of antiviral medications (Tamiflu or Relenza) for the vessel med kit. Administer as directed to a crewmember or guest at the onset of a viral infection.
  • -Have a sufficient supply of disinfectants like bleach, disinfecting spray, antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer on board.

  • -If a crewmember is obviously sick, do not require that they try to “work through it.” It's better for the rest of the crew to pick up the slack than to risk having the entire crew becoming ill.
  • -Try to isolate a sick crewmember. If he or she shares a cabin, their cabin mate should be allowed to use other accommodations.
  • -Limit a sick crewmember’s exposure to the rest of the crew and guests.
  • -It's not unreasonable for the caregiver to wear a simple protective mask and gloves when tending to someone who is sick, especially if coughing, sneezing or vomiting are symptoms.
  • -Once a crewmember has recovered, their bedding should be washed with bleach and the room should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

  • -A single crewmember should monitor and care for a sick person in order to limit his or her exposure to others. This way, the sickness also can be accurately observed in terms of how it is progressing.
  • -Most viral infections do not require medical care and will run their course on their own.
  • -Symptoms that are considered “typical” of a viral infection include fatigue, body aches, chills, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, runny nose and coughing. These symptoms do not normally require specialized care for an otherwise healthy individual.
  • -However, there are clear signs that a sick person will need medical support; these signs include:

-The inability to consume or keep down liquids for a period of more than 48 hours.

-Loss of elasticity in the skin, sunken eyes and/or an inability to produce tears.

-A fever over 102 degrees F, which does not go down after taking an analgesic.

-Loss of consciousness/ inability to wake.

-A severe headache with neck stiffness.

-Difficulty breathing.


-Blood present in vomit or diarrhea.

Swine Flu

Because of the contagious nature of the illness, which had killed more than 150 people in Mexico as of April 28, the WHO has raised its global alert level to phase 4 from phase 3 (phase 6 is a pandemic). Both the CDC and WHO continue to recommended treatment for victims of viral infections following the guidelines above.