Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
Join Undercurrent on Facebook
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
May 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

Proper Liveaboard Hygiene

from the May, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

What can be more upsetting than to spend big money traveling halfway around the world, only to come up sick in the middle of a trip and have to miss dives? We get many reports from liveaboard divers who note that their trip begins with one person sick and ends with nearly everyone, including the crew, with a cold or the flu. While most of us dont spend our days worrying about catching a bug, it pays to be cautious in the close quarters of a liveaboard boat. In a warm, moist, tropical environment, where everyone is holding on to the same handrails and turning the same doorknobs, the chance that one sick patron will infect a host of others is quite high.

Although viruses require live hosts to multiply and spread, they can live on inanimate surfaces for up to two hours, giving them a convenient window of opportunity to be picked up by unsuspecting divers. Chlorine bleach is a good germ-buster, says Ernest Campbell, M.D., a blogger for ScubaDoc.com. A quarter cup of regular laundry bleach in a gallon of cool water is an effective all-purpose disinfectant and can also kill common food pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. If hygiene is lacking on your liveaboard, suggest the crew use that mixture. You can also carry a chlorine bleach solution in a spray bottle to wipe down railings and doorknobs as you go. Here are some other problem areas:

The mask-rinsing bucket. Its the perfect collecting and breeding environment for viruses. When everyone is rinsing their masks in the same bucket, theyre not only sharing their crud but also collecting everyone elses. Avoid that by rinsing your mask in seawater. Its going to end up there anyway. If you do keep it in the dive decks rinse buckets, Campbell says a small amount of chlorine bleach will reduce the bacteria count.

Cups of water. On many liveaboards, water is handed out in cups that are simply rinsed, not sanitized, in a tub of water. And since all cups look alike, its easy to confuse one persons cup with anothers. To prevent cross contamination and relieve crew from having to distribute glasses and collect them for rinsing and refilling, some liveaboards now give passengers their own water bottles, with names written on them. Bring your own bottle anyway, just in case youre on a liveaboard that doesnt do this.

The dining room. Most liveaboards dont have a sink or hand sanitizer station in the dining room. After contaminating their hands on handrails and doorknobs, guests in the dining room have no way of cleaning or sanitizing them, so its unwashed hands passing dishes and eating their own food. Installing a sink is expensive, but hand-sanitizing liquid dispensers cost as little as $10.

But the jury is split on the effectiveness of hand sanitizers. Popular ones like Purell and Germ-X contain about 60 percent ethyl alcohol, which strips away the skins outer layer of oil, preventing bacteria present in the body from coming to the surface of the hand. Studies done at the Childrens Hospital in Boston and Colorado State University found that alcohol-based sanitizers were better at reducing germs on human hands and reducing gastrointestinal illnesses. But a Purdue University study concluded that while alcohol-based hand sanitizers may kill more germs than plain soap and water, they are killing off the bacteria normally present in the body, not the kinds that make one sick. And another study by French researchers found that the chlorhexidine-based hand sanitizer Nanochlorex was better than Purell at reducing bacterial levels.

If hand sanitizer is on board, by all means use it. But dont make that the only way you clean your hands. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that hand sanitizers only be used as an adjunct to soap and water, not a replacement. Nothing has been conclusively found to be as effective as good old soap and hot water, says Campbell.

So while you may not wish to go through life like a hypochondriac with an unwarranted fear of germs, a few precautions in the close quarters of a liveaboard -- or resort -- in the tropics could be good insurance against getting a bug that will knock you out of the water for a few days.

-- Kent Roorda and Vanessa Richardson

I want to get all the stories! Tell me how I can become an Undercurrent Online Member and get online access to all the articles of Undercurrent as well as thousands of first hand reports on dive operations world-wide



NEW! Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account |
| Travel Index | Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Forums | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues | Login | Join | Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |


Copyright © 1996-2016 Undercurrent (www.undercurrent.org)
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.

fc