Lee-Ann Jaykus, a professor of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences at North Carolina State University, and colleagues are the first to prove that norovirus can be spread though aerosolization during vomiting. Norovirus is one of the most common contagious viruses that is most often spread though food contamination. The discovery was reported in the edition of the journal PLOS ONE.
Studying vomit caused by norovirus or any other disease presents some difficulties. A researcher cannot induce a person to vomit on cue. Vomiting people are difficult to study in a consistent manner. The researchers created a device that duplicates the production of aerosolized vomit particles that could contain norovirus. The study found that only 0.02 percent of vomit particles can become sufficiently airborne to produce infection in another person.
Norovirus is unusual in that the virus can survive outside a host for an indefinite period of time. Tiny amounts of the virus can produce disease in other people by simple tactile contact. The idea behind the research was to provide evidence that the norovirus can be spread in the air by vomit and develop protocols that protect care givers from infection.
The study also illuminates the need for changes in care tactics for disease that cause vomiting. Any totally resistant mutant strain of a virus or bacteria that produces vomiting could produce an airborne epidemic that is uncontrollable particularly in regions with high population density. The researchers are planning to study norovirus as a prototype of how long an infectious virus can remain in the air as a result of vomiting and the extent of the spread of the disease.