Giving norovirus the heave ho

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It is generally regarded as the single most infectious agent on earth. And although it probably won t kill you, if you are unfortunate enough to catch it, you may wish that it would. But norovirus, also known as the stomach flu and the cruise ship virus, may have finally met its match.

At present, there is no vaccine to prevent it, and barely anything to treat it, but this might change radically.

Ligocyte, a Montana-based biotech company had been working for years on a vaccine for norovirus, which causes severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Last year they announced that one of their vaccines was about 50% effective in conferring protection to volunteers who took the vaccine and were subsequently challenged with the virus.

These results apparently impressed the Japanese pharmaceutical giant Takeda, which bought the entire company simply to get their hands on the vaccine. And it seems like they made the right move.

Rajeev Venkkaya, who heads the Japanese drugmaker s vaccines unit said, A course of shots may confer lifelong protection against 95 percent of strains.

In otherwise healthy people, the virus causes misery, but is usually self-limiting. But of the 21 million people infected in the U.S. annually (second only to the common cold in incidence), about 800 die, mostly the very young and the elderly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And in countries with inadequate hydration capabilities due to lack of clean fresh water, the virus can kill via dehydration similar to rotavirus, which affects mostly young children. Fortunately, there are two very effective vaccines for rotavirus one of which was co-invented by ACSH trustee Dr. Paul Offit of the Children s Hospital of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Bloom says, A successful norovirus vaccine, along with the already-effective rotavirus vaccines will have a very significant impact on public health, since it will wipe out the two major causes of transmissible gastroenteritis. He adds, I suggest that you don t get in my way when this first becomes available at Duane Reade. It could get ugly.