University teams work to eliminate norovirus

A research team of more than 30 collaborators from academia, industry and government are studying the human noroviruses across food supply – funded by a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NIFA.

Noroviruses are the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines) in the United States. Norovirus illness spreads easily and is often called stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis. Michigan State University Extension recommends good hand hygiene to prevent an infection with norovirus. Hand washing is a simple and effective way to help prevent diseases, like colds, flu and food poisoning.

North Carolina State University in collaboration with 30 other universities, academia and industry are using a $25 million grant awarded in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to strengthen food safety by studying human noroviruses across the food supply chain. This is an effort to design effective control measures and reduce the number of virus-caused foodborne illnesses.

Human noroviruses are the most common cause of foodborne disease, responsible for more than five million cases in the United States each year. Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Molluscan shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels; fresh produce; and foods that are extensively handled just prior to consumption are at greatest risk for contamination. People who are infected with norovirus can spread it directly to other people, or can contaminate food or drinks they prepare for other people. The virus can also survive on surfaces contaminated with the virus or are spread through contact with an infected person.

A team led by Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, is working to increase understanding of the viruses; educate producers, processors and food handlers on safe handling and preparation of food; and develop control and management strategies to reduce food contamination before and after harvesting. These are the objectives of the study as outlined by the team:

  • Develop improved methods of studying human noroviruses and their role in foodborne illnesses.
  • Develop and validate rapid and practical methods to detect human noroviruses.
  • Collect and analyze data on viral foodborne illnesses including how they are transmitted and provide risk and cost analyses.
  • Improve understanding of how human noroviruses behave in the food safety chain in order to develop scientifically justifiable control measures.
  • Develop online courses and curricula for food safety and health professionals and food service workers, and provide information to fresh produce and shellfish producers and processors on the risks, management and control of foodborne viruses.
  • Develop a public literature database, build virus research capabilities in state public health laboratories, and develop graduate level curricula to educate masters and doctoral students.

Dr. Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at MSU recommends following the tips to avoid norovirus. These tips and the research currently in process will help consumers combat norovirus and symptoms that occur.

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