Doctors from the University of Cincinnati claim that a new vaccine for norovirus reduces the symptoms by more than half. For anyone suffering from this severe gastrointestinal (GI) infection, this will be welcome news.

Norovirus, or the winter vomiting bug, causes sickness and diarrhea in sufferers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 19 and 21 million Americans – 1 in 15 people – are infected each year.

Most people make a full recovery within a few days, but as many as 800 die. In addition, one recent evaluation reports that the overall cost of the disease in the US is $5.5 billion annually.

The virus is highly contagious and can spread from person to person through infected food or water or contaminated surfaces. The best prevention is proper hand washing, but the norovirus is so contagious that people can become ill even through contact with viral particles in the air.

Outbreaks typically occur from November to April, peaking in January.

Medical News Today reported in January this year that researchers created a vomiting robot to find out how far the germs can travel during episodes of sickness. And in September, a study showed that copper surfaces destroy this pernicious bug.

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Outbreaks of norovirus are estimated to cost the US $5.5 billion annually.

The study points out that not everyone who is exposed to norovirus becomes infected and of those who are infected, not everyone gets sick. But it nonetheless is very common and can be serious, particularly for children and older adults.

Significant outbreaks occur in health care facilities, childcare centers and other places where people are in close quarters, including in the military and on cruise ships.

Dr. David Bernstein, professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati and lead author of the study, says:

Norovirus truly is a global issue and most if not everyone has experienced it to some degree. The results of our study are promising and our next step is to test this vaccine in a real-world setting.”

Currently, there is no treatment or cure for norovirus, but the results of this study look promising.

In a randomized, multi-center study, 98 people agreed to drink water containing a significant dose of the virus. Of these, 50 received the injected vaccine and 48 received a placebo injection that did not contain the vaccine.

Neither the participants nor the researchers knew in advance who received the vaccine and who did not. In the vaccine group, 26 (52%) were infected, as were 29 (60%) of those in the non-vaccine group.

In people who received the vaccine, 10 (20%) suffered from mild, moderate or severe vomiting and/or diarrhea, versus 20 (42%) in the non-vaccine group – a 52% reduction in symptoms.

The investigational vaccine appears to be generally well tolerated and targets two genotypes of norovirus: GI.1 and GII.4. The latter was identified as the leading cause of outbreaks in the US.

Dr. Bernstein says:

If the vaccine continues to prove as effective as our initial results indicate, it could be used for specific populations or situations – in those at a higher risk of severe disease such as the elderly or at high risk for infection or transmission such as in day care, people going on a cruise, those in nursing homes or in the military.”

The results of the study were presented at IDWeek 2013™, the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) in October 2013.