Norovirus is a huge public health problem, sickening as many as 21 million people a year in the U.S. But for all the gastric distress it causes, there are still some basic, unanswered questions about the virus.
One biggie: When an ill person vomits, does norovirus become aerosolized? That is, can an ill person's vomiting launch tiny viral particles into the air, where they might waft into your mouth or onto surfaces that you would later touch?
If you're now grossed out, you have good reason. Studies of the infection patterns that occur in outbreaks suggest that norovirus can indeed be aerosolized. And now there's some experimental evidence to add to that.
Researchers at North Carolina State and Wake Forest universities wanted to know what happens to norovirus when it's vomited out.
"We first talked to a gastroenterologist and looked through the literature about what's known about vomiting," says Lee-Ann Jaykus, a food microbiologist at N.C. State and an author of the study. Not as much as you might think, it turns out. So the researchers worked with a civil engineer to construct a one-quarter scale vomiting device based on what is known about pressure, volume and other vomit metrics.