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Going on a cruise? Be prepared in case of sickness

Posted June 4, 2014 7:51 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2014 8:05 p.m. EDT

Jane Upton was experiencing what she thought was a dream cruise - until she became sick with the norovirus.

"I just remember leaning against, in the bathroom, and I was like, 'Is this what it is like to die?' It's horrific," she said.

Upton was one of 600 people sickened during a January cruise.

If a passenger becomes sick, there are options:

- Cruise ships have on-board medical facilities, similar to an urgent care center, which can provide basic treatment such as stitches or IV fluids.
- Anything serious may require a hospital visit at the next port. That decision is up to the ship doctor.
- Some ships have a list of each crew member’s blood type in case they’re needed for a blood transfusion.
- Those who take prescription medicine should pack extra medication. Ships don’t have a huge stock, which means passengers will pay full price for any pills.

"Also, get ready to pay a premium, out of pocket, for any on-board care, even items like Band-Aids or aspirin,” said Dr. Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports medical advisor. "Many people aren't aware that most cruise ships don't accept medical insurance."

Consumer Reports advises those planning to take a cruise to consider travel insurance. It could be invaluable if serious medical attention is needed while at a foreign port.

Those buying travel insurance should avoid commission-driven policies sold by tour operators, travel agents and cruise lines. Instead, use an online broker such as insuremytrip.com, which sells coverage from multiple companies.

Also, cruise lines can’t be sued for medical malpractice – ship doctors are independent contractors.