NCSU to lead attack on norovirus

Posted August 3, 2011 9:51 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina State University on Tuesday received a $25 million federal grant to lead scientists at 13 universities and other organizations in finding better ways to combat noroviruses, which cause more than 5 million cases of food-borne illness each year.

North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T State University and Research Triangle Institute also are part of the consortium.

“Most public-health professionals, food-industry professionals and consumers continue to believe that bacteria, not viruses, are the most common cause of food-borne disease,” N.C. State professor Lee-Ann Jaykus said in a statement. “This is in large part because human noroviruses are difficult to study. They cannot be cultivated outside of the human body, there are few commercial diagnostic tests available in the United States and only a few scientists are trained specifically in food virology."

Jaykus, a professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, will lead the five-year project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels, fresh produce and foods that are extensively handled just prior to consumption are at greatest risk for contamination.

Researchers will work to increase understanding of the viruses, educate producers, processors and food handlers on safe handling and preparation of food and develop control and management strategies to reduce food contamination before and after harvesting.

Other institutions taking part in the project include Clemson University, Baylor College of Medicine, Emory University, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Georgia, the Institute for Food Safety and Health at Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Delaware, the Ohio State University, Louisiana State University, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Rutgers University.