Who said scientists don’t have a sense of humour? After all, they study the spread of viruses using a ‘humanoid simulated vomiting system’ named, yup, Vomiting Larry. Titters aside, Vomiting Larry is helping scientists to analyse conditions for the spread of Norovirus – one of the most infectious viruses to attack humans. This season alone, more than a million Britons have joined Larry in the plight of violent vomiting, but the severity of Norovirus is no laughing matter. The Center for Disease Control in the US expects that the Norovirus infects at least 21 million people annually, and leads to hospitalization for 70,000 people and 800 deaths. Ian Goodfellow, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, has been studying Norovirus for more than a decade and you can watch his bbc news interview here.
WHY IS NOROVIRUS SO INFECTIOUS?
Goodfellow believes that Norovirus is so contagious because it takes fewer than 20 virus particles to infect someone. This means that a single droplet of vomit could infect more than 100,000 people! Norovirus has two additional strengths that make it such a formidable foe. One is the dramatic vomiting it produces, much of which is invisible to us but can reach several meters. The second is its ability to live outside of its human host up to 12 days on fabric and for years in water. We are not all at equal risk, however. Goodfellow believes that up to 20% of Europeans have a genetic mutation that provides Norovirus resistance. For the rest of us, clinical trials of Norovirus vaccines are underway, but the rapid mutation of this virus means they may not stay effective for long.
‘Vomiting Larry’ in action, releasing a vomitus substitute with fluorescent marker to track small splashes. Developed by Catherine Makison at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Derbyshire, northern England.
HOW TO AVOID NOROVIRUS
Vaccines are in the works but may not keep pace with the fast mutating virus, so what else can we do to protect ourselves? Nororvirus is resistant to typical household disinfectants and alcohol hand gels, but Goodfellow assures us that thorough handwashing is our best defense. In fact, Norovirus spreads so easily because of our tendency for dodgy handwashing. So sing a song or watch the clock to ensure you give yourself at least a solid 15 seconds of scrubbing with soap and warm water, and dry your hands completely.
To read the full article by Kate Kelland, click here.
The Norovirus image is by Dr. David Bhella.