The dreaded "cruise
ship virus" could sink into history some day, if a promising vaccine trial
Researchers report that an
early test of an experimental vaccine for norovirus – the cause of a stomach
sickness that fells scores of cruise ship passengers and nursing home
residents, among others – reduced symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea by 52%.
Every year, norovirus
sickens 19 million to 21 million Americans – or one in 15 – and kills as many
as 800, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Early results of
testing an experimental vaccine for norovirus appear positive, providing
optimism that a vaccine can be developed for this common cause of
gastroenteritis," said lead researcher Dr David Bernstein, a professor of
paediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre and the University
"More testing will be
necessary to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective," he said. "If
this can be duplicated in larger trials, it could lead to the availability of a
new vaccine for a very common illness."
The results of the study
were to be presented at ID Week 2013, the infectious diseases society
conference in San Francisco.
No treatment available
Currently, there is no
treatment or cure for the highly contagious virus, the most common cause of
viral gastroenteritis in children and adults.
Outbreaks occur in close
quarters, such as health care facilities, child care centres, schools and
military bases in addition to cruise ships, the researchers said.
The vaccine might be useful
for people in any of those settings, Bernstein said. Ocean-going travellers,
for instance, could add the vaccine to their to-do list before departure.
But first, Bernstein hopes
to test the vaccine in a larger "real-world" trial.
Dr Jesse Reeves-Garcia,
chief of the division of gastroenterology at Miami Children's Hospital, said
the idea of a vaccine for norovirus is "fascinating".
people's lives," he said. "They take a vacation, they take a cruise
and spend three of four days in the toilet puking or pooping or both," he
A vaccine that's effective,
safe and reasonably priced would be "great", Reeves-Garcia said.
"It would be another sickness that I wouldn't see anymore."
Facts on Norovirus
Norovirus can spread
through infected food or water, contaminated surfaces and even through the air.
Not everyone exposed to
norovirus gets infected, and of those who are infected not all get sick,
Bernstein said. But it is very common and can be serious, particularly for
young children and older adults, he added.
A recent study found the
overall cost of the disease in the United States is $5.5 billion a year, the
For the latest study,
Bernstein's team randomly assigned 98 people, who agreed to drink water laced
with the virus, to an injection of the vaccine or placebo.
Among those given the
vaccine, 26 were infected as were 29 in the placebo group. Ten people in the
vaccinated group had mild, moderate or severe vomiting and/or diarrhoea
compared with 20 in the non-vaccinated group – a 52% reduction in symptoms.
The vaccine disarms two
genotypes of norovirus, one of them the leading cause of US outbreaks, the
study authors say.
Data and conclusions
presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a
peer-reviewed medical journal.
For more information on
norovirus, visit the US Centres
for Disease Control and Prevention.