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Federal study could shed light on common cruise ship illness

Researchers all over the country are scrambling to learn more about the cruise ship illness human norovirus. A $25 million grant to research foodborne illnesses has been divided up among a number of research groups throughout the country, including universities and hospitals.

While many people are familiar with food bacteria such as E. coli, the big culprit of food poisoning, noroviruses, goes relatively unknown. Known as the "cruise ship virus" in news headlines, noroviruses are often the cause of food poisoning symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and, on occasion, fever.

Norovirus outbreaks, while typically known to occur on cruise ships, can also occur in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and daycares. Little is known about noroviruses, and those who have received a portion of the grant money are going about research in different ways. Studying the virus can be difficult because it typically does not survive outside of the human body.

One researcher intends to focus on detecting the virus and developing methods to stop the virus from spreading. Other teams hope to educate food producers, processors and handlers about ways that noroviruses are spread, emphasizing safe food handling and preparation.

But even with suggestions for cruise ship passengers, such as making sure to thoroughly wash your hands, the norovirus could still spread. Imagine being on a family vacation and suddenly coming down with the food poisoning symptoms. Being sick on a ship and far from immediate medical attention can be extremely painful.

Perhaps this study will give researchers a better idea of how to prevent these outbreaks, beyond encouraging good hygiene.

Source: Times-Herald: "UGA, others granted $25 million to study foodborne viruses," Sharon Dowdy, Aug. 23, 2011.

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