Norovirus Vaccine

norovirus-vaccineThere are no current vaccines for Norovirus, the highly contagious virus that causes acute gastroenteritis, or sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea. Infected individuals usually experience symptoms for a duration of one to three days and then get better. People infected with Norovirus are at risk of dehydration.  The illness can be particularly dangerous for children and elderly individuals. Approximately 21 million people contract Norovirus each year in the United States, and approximately 800 of those individuals die annually.

One of the reasons that Norovirus is particularly tricky to work with, is because there are many different strains of Norovirus. There are five types of Norovirus, but innumerable different forms of the virus. This means that you can contract Norovirus many different times throughout your life, even if you have had it before. This makes it difficult to create a vaccine that will target multiple forms of Norovirus.

There is, however, a vaccine in the works that has shown some promise. It is being produced by the Takeda Pharmaceutical Company of Osaka, Japan and was designed by doctors at the University of Cincinnati. The lead investigator on the project is  Dr. David Bernstein, MD, from the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio.

Dr. Bernstein, along with his co-workers, released a study in October 2013 showing that their new vaccine appeared to be effective in preventing the most common forms of norovirus. People who were vaccinated were half as likely to suffer symptoms of Norovirus as people who were not. This was tested when groups of vaccinated and non-vaccinated volunteers were given water that was laced with the virus.

The trial was relatively small, but Dr.  Bernstein and his coworkers plan to expand their trials in the future. The trial consisted of ninety eight  healthy adults who were each given two injections. Fifty participants were given two doses of the vaccine, while the other forty eight were given two doses of a placebo. One month after the injections, all of the participants drank water laced with norovirus. Approximately half of the individuals in each group became infected with norovirus, but the vaccinated individuals were significantly less likely to feel sick, show symptoms, or experience severe illness. This indicates that the vaccine does not prevent Norovirus infection, but can help ease some of the symptoms of that infection—specifically, vomiting and diarrhea.

Doctors are not yet sure as to the long-term effectiveness of this vaccine. However, many medical professionals are hopeful about its potential usefulness. Some experts have argued that even if the vaccine cannot eliminate Norovirus completely or offer lifelong protection from infection, it may still be useful. It could, for example, be given to military personnel, healthcare professionals, and individuals who handle food and beverages in restaurants or cafeterias. It could even be given to individuals who are about to embark on a cruise, since a cruise ship is an environment in which Norovirus can spread quickly and infect many individuals. In addition, it could be given to children and elderly people, who are high-risk groups for complications from Norovirus infections.

I will keep this page updated as new information is released.

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