Ben Raymond is an MS student at North Carolina State University focusing on food safety through social media, barf banter, and creating new foods. The kind that won’t make you barf.
I really hate puking; the thought makes me cringe. I may be in trouble, because not only did Ben and his family have noro, now it looks like a new(ish) variant of norovirus has hit North Carolina. Norovirus one, you zero is a website for self-declaring a virus-induced barf fest. Based on the number of reports from Raleigh, I’m doomed to add myself to this repository of misery soon. The Raleigh News and Observer reports seven confirmed cases in the area; coupled with a whole lot of unreported cases of hugging the toilet only to quickly turn and let loose from the other end. A gruesome mental image, but as anyone who has ever had the so-called stomach flu, it is nasty.
The new variant is named Sydney after the Australian city. A new variant of the genotype GII.4 the super mutating kind of norovirus, appears every few years. There are lots of different noro genotypes, but the GII.4 variant has been the main culprit for widespread outbreaks since 2001. New strains make people barf the world over and then mutate yet again to repeat it all once more.
Resistance to noro infections is not well understood, but GII.4 evolves to escape both acquired and innate immunity. In human challenge studies participants have been re-infected with the same strain, though this was using a rather large infectious dose. Most infections cause diarrhea and vomiting for an exciting 24-60 hours and then subside without the need for medical attention. However, populations such as those in nursing homes facilitate a rapid spread, and the population is more susceptible to prolonged illness with serious consequences.
Infected individuals can shed virus particles for three weeks after symptoms subside. The best defense is to wash your hands often and thoroughly. There are sanitizers on the market that will inactivate noro but that convenient alcohol goop isn’t going to cut it this time. Alcohol-based sanitizers are effective against permeating bacterial cell walls (and blowing them apart); but norovirus doesn’t have a cell wall so inactivation isn’t going to happen. Risk-reduction comes from the mechanical act of wash/rinse/dry which removes the virus from hands.