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NoroCORE: A Comprehensive Approach to a Near 'Perfect' Human Pathogen

Posted by Scott Elliott, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Health and Safety Research and Science
Aug 25, 2016
Blond woman with a painful expression sitting on a grey sofa at home with her hands placed on her stomach
About 5 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year. (iStock photo)

Today’s guest blog features the USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative (NoroCORE- Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education), a food safety initiative with the ultimate goal to reduce the burden of foodborne disease associated with viruses, particularly noroviruses. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States accounting for around 5 million of the 21 million annual cases associated with contaminated foods. Cost of illness is estimated to be billions of dollars per year.

By Dr. Elizabeth Bradshaw, NoroCORE extension associate, and Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, NoroCORE scientific director

Even if you have not experienced a norovirus infection personally (consider yourself fortunate!), you probably know someone who has or have heard of an outbreak of the “stomach flu.”  Most people know norovirus by its symptoms: a couple of memorable days of vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with a fever and a headache.

These maladies are caused by 27-nanometer viruses—tiny, even by virus standards.  The norovirus “bugs” are so good at infecting us that they have been called the “Perfect Human Pathogen.”  It is so virulent that a person can become sick within a few hours of consuming as few as 20 virus particles.  There are about 21 million cases per year in the United States alone, with about 800 deaths.

The NoroCORE team has taken up the challenge to understand and control food borne virus risks.  Led by North Carolina State, NoroCORE is a multi-disciplinary collaborative of 30 researchers who are top scientists in the fields of basic, food and environmental virology from 25 universities.  Their goal is to reduce the burden of foodborne illness associated with viruses.  NIFA supports the project with a $25 million Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant.

NoroCORE’s six primary objectives are molecular virology, detection, epidemiology and risk analysis; prevention and control; extension and outreach; and education and capacity building. Collaborators work with each other, often across institutions and disciplines, which leads to the development of better tools and skills as well as shared resources and knowledge.

NoroCORE also has a massive outreach component with input from more than 200 stakeholders that includes members of government and public health agencies, food production and safety groups, restaurant and cruise line industries, manufacturers of sanitation and hygiene products, testing laboratories, and a variety of commodity and trade organizations. This was an integral part of NoroCORE’s design to ensure that the research being done is immediately applicable to real-world needs. Education is also a component of NoroCORE because knowledge must be shared to be useful.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.