Study Has Uncovered Antibodies That May Neutralize Norovirus

New research takes the next steps in preventing and treating an extremely contagious family of viruses.
October 12, 2021

A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications shows how researchers have successfully isolated antibodies that can neutralize several variants of Norovirus. Study subjects had a history of acute gastroenteritis — a rapidly onset intestinal infection that affects thousands of Canadians every year.

The study states that in 2010, there were 1.8 billion cases worldwide of diarrheal disease, and 18 percent of these were caused by human norovirus (HuNoVs).

In lab tests, these naturally occurring antibodies could not only directly prevent or treat Norovirus, but could also be used to develop vaccines against a broad range of viral strains.

Because these antibodies could recognize and neutralize so many different noroviruses, they could potentially be used against novel variants that may emerge in the future. This research is a major step toward learning how viruses work, which could help prevent and treat new or more aggressive strains.

“Previously, many experts thought that this would not be possible because of the extreme sequence diversity in the various groups and types of noroviruses in circulation,” said James Crowe Jr., MD, one of the supervisors of the study.

“The human immune system continues to surprise us in its capacity to recognize diverse virus variants.”

Norovirus: the leading cause of food-borne illness

In Canada, the highly contagious Norovirus is the leading cause of food-borne illness and hospitalizations each year. The virus remains stable in heat and resists cold temperatures, which means freezing or cooking food will not necessarily kill the virus. It can survive on almost any surface for weeks, and it is frequently transferred via “low-risk” foods such as bread or crackers.

Symptoms typically start about 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Though it is possible to have no symptoms, when someone gets sick with Norovirus, they may experience:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • fever and chills
  • fatigue

Norovirus spreads by direct contact with a person who has been infected, contact with contaminated objects or surfaces, by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.

In the majority of cases, the virus is spread to food or people by Food Handlers who have not washed their hands properly, particularly after using the toilet. The virus lives in the intestines, so it can be spread through the stool or vomit of an infected person even if they are asymptomatic.

Hand washing is the best prevention

While this new research could lead to stopping infection in the future, people should still implement preventative measures to minimize the risk of spreading food-borne illness. Thorough, frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent Norovirus. For food businesses, hand washing should always be prioritized, especially considering Norovirus is most commonly spread in food businesses in Canada.

Following standard food safety practices also helps to prevent the spread of Norovirus. Food Handlers should be trained to ensure raw and ready-to-eat foods are stored separately, and follow the necessary steps to prevent cross-contamination. They need to understand the importance of properly washing raw fruits and vegetables, and know how to clean and sanitize all surfaces and utensils used in food preparation.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) offers comprehensive training around proper hygiene protocols and sanitation methods. Gain the tools and knowledge you need to implement food safety best practices in your business and help reduce the spread of food-borne illness in Canada by taking our nationally recognized Food Handler Certification Course.