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NoroCORE and the Perfect Pathogen: USDA-NIFA Efforts to Control Norovirus

SEP 12, 2016 | JENINA PELLEGREN
Dubbed ‘the perfect pathogen’ by researchers, norovirus possesses all the markers of an ideal infectious agent. It is “highly contagious” and “moderately virulent,” which allows most of those who are infected to fully recover. The virus frequently sheds and continually evolves, and everyone is susceptible to infection.
 
Evidence has demonstrated that a targeted vaccine intervention may be necessary to reduce norovirus disease and prevent outbreaks. Although a vaccine may one day serve as another critical tool, it must be noted that thorough epidemiologic investigations and sound infection control practices will still undoubtedly continue to be necessary in curtailing the spread of these well-adapted pathogens.
 
Norovirus is the leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States, with 5 million of the reported 21 million annual cases linked to contaminated foods. The cost of illness is estimated to be billions of dollars per year.
 
In developing countries where the greatest amount of diarrheal disease occurs, norovirus is estimated to cause upwards of 200,000 deaths annually in children under five years of age. In order to address the burden of norovirus disease, scientists and other public health professionals must first understand the way in which the virus spreads.
 
The Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education (NoroCORE), led by North Carolina State University, is a multi-disciplinary collaborative food safety initiative that is comprised of 30 researchers and top scientists in the field of basic food and environment virology from 25 universities. NoroCore is determined to reduce food-borne disease associated with viruses, particularly, noroviruses.
 
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food Agriculture (NIFA) supports the project, which began back in 2011, with a $25 million, 6-year Agriculture and Food Research initiative grant.
 
The six primary objectives of NoroCORE are available on the official website.

According to the website, the “researchers designed the project with a ‘new biology’ approach to science in mind,” one that consists of interdisciplinary collaborative efforts. With input from more than 200 stakeholders, including members of government, food production and safety groups, restaurant and cruise line industries, and testing laboratories, collaborators work, across institutes and disciplines, to develop better tools and skills as well as share resources and knowledge.
 
NoroCORE team members regularly publish results in a number of peer-reviewed journals which makes research accessible, available, and immediately applicable to real-world needs. In addition, a key feature of NoroCORE is a commitment to education and outreach.
 
According to NoroCORE, “Significant progress has been made to-date, with most of the “ground work” set and critical mass met for even greater strides over the coming years. Longer-term goals, such as many of the activities in the Prevention & Control and Extension and Education Cores, will begin to be realized in the latter years of the project based on the research advances made to date, and the groundwork now being laid for these activities.”
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