End of tummy trouble? Norovirus vaccine in the works

The future of cruising may not include obsessive hand sanitizing and bouts in the bathroom while everyone else is onshore. That’s because a research team at the Baylor College of Medicine is hard at work on — drum roll, please — a norovirus vaccine.

According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the team’s trial vaccine — a dry powder administered as a spray — “provides significant protection against the norovirus.”

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested 90 healthy adults, with half getting the test vaccine and half receiving a placebo. When 84 of the subjects were exposed to norovirus, 61 percent of vaccine recipients became infected and 37 percent developed symptoms, compared to 82 percent of the control group who became infected with 61 percent developing symptoms. (It is possible to be infected with Norovirus but not actually experience any stomach upset or other discomforts.) The vaccine recipients also reported less serious symptoms than those who only received the placebo.

Related: What you need to know about Norvirus

Gastrointestinal illnesses are particularly difficult to vaccinate against. Only one other currently exists — the rotavirus vaccine given to infants. If successful, this vaccine would be the second in the world.

We do have one serious quibble with the reporting of this story: A significant number of outlets have dubbed norvirus a “cruise ship” virus (both in attention-grabbing headlines and throughout the coverage). USA Today, for instance, called it a “nasty bug that regularly afflicts whole shiploads of people with nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.”

Although many people refer to it as such, it is not unique to cruise ships or limited to sea-going vessels. Norovirus is actually the second most prevalent illness in the U.S. after the common cold, and the CDC estimates that there are more than 20 million cases annually.

Cruise ship cases make the news because lines participating in the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program are required to report the total number of GI cases (including zero cases) evaluated by the medical staff before the ship arrives at a U.S. port, when sailing from a foreign port. A separate notification is required when the GI count exceeds 2 percent of the total number of passengers or crew onboard. This is not the case for land-based facilities like hotels and hospitals.

According to reports, the norovirus vaccine will likely not be ready for distribution for another 5 to 10 years.

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