Some people go to great lengths to ‘protect’ themselves from cruise-borne germs. I’m not talking about the obsessive-compulsive disorder folks who have a legitimate obsession. I’m talking about the sheltered, paranoid freaks who no longer enjoy the benefit of healthy immune systems because they have utterly destroyed every bacterium on their persons with anti-bacterial gels, creams, and probably suppositories. Many a cruise guest enters his/her cabin and promptly wipes down every conceivable well-used surface with disinfectant wipes: light switches, door knobs, faucets, and telephone. Some go so far as to place the TV remote control in a quart-sized Ziploc bag.
I don’t blame you, gentle reader. Take a few precautions to feel better. But rest assured, the ship crew has already done this. Every homeport, room stewards disinfect every high touch item in the cabin, especially in the bathroom. That bathroom has about 400 times LESS bacteria than your office desk. But go ahead and wipe down that toilet seat again. Better yet, bring those disposable paper seats. Right?
Remember cruise ships clean everything above and beyond what’s required by land businesses. They’re required to. Indeed, I bleached restaurant and kitchen stuff daily until my fingers literally split. Yes, we waiters bleach those menus, salt and pepper shakers, even backs of the chairs. Stewards bleach those elevator buttons and rails. If there does happen to be a virus outbreak on board, we double wash all plates, double wash all glasses, double wash all silver. Feel safer?
YOU SHOULDN’T. Bwah-ha-ha!
Why do I taunt you thus? Because you, gentle germophobe, brought loads of bacteria with you. Take your toothbrush, for example. You put it in your mouth twice a day (well, you should). Yet your mouth contains billions of bacteria. Scientists have identified more than 700 different types of microbes in the average human mouth [WebMD]. Yet if you don’t cap that wet toothbrush, you are potentially contaminating it by merely flushing the toilet (paper-seat and all). Researchers discovered flushing the toilet sends a spray of bacteria- and virus-contaminated water droplets into the air. These float in the air for at least two hours after each flush before landing on surfaces—like your toothbrush [university of Arizona Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science].
What about the toiletries you brought with you? Ladies, how often do you disinfect every tube, handle, and applicator in your make-up bag? Guys, you bleachin’ handles on those razors?
Remember, you need bacteria to stay healthy. Why do you think babies put everything in their mouths? They’re building up their immune systems! The paranoia of all-things-filthy is predominantly an American trait. We are relentlessly barraged by advertising for cleaning products. It’s gone overboard. Why, even Healthline’s website spread the alarm that washed laundry left unattended in a machine, even a few minutes, is like “the fertile crescent for germs.”
If you have a compromised immunity system, by all means take precautions. But sensible precautions suffice for most of us. I worked on ships four years and never got sick once. I survived countless Norovirus outbreaks without incident. The real culprits are our own bad habits. For cryin’ out loud, just wash your hands after using the toilet and before you eat. You’d be shocked how few people actually do that. On Conquest, the captain even had to publicly humiliate himself by singing “Happy Birthday” to himself on the PA system to drive home how long you should soap those hands (CDC says hum it twice).
The best thing, of course, is sterilization from the inside out: down some shots of booze. Helps with a great many issues.
Brian David Bruns is author of Unsinkable Mister Brown, bronze medal winner at the 2012 London Book Festival.