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In early trial, symptoms of norovirus infection were halved, researchers say

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 4 (HealthDay News) -- The dreaded "cruise ship virus" could sink into history some day, if a promising vaccine trial pans out.

Researchers report that an early test of an experimental vaccine for norovirus -- the cause of a stomach sickness that fells scores of cruise ship passengers and nursing home residents, among others -- reduced symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea by 52 percent.

Every year, norovirus sickens 19 million to 21 million Americans -- or one in 15 -- and kills as many as 800, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Early results of testing an experimental vaccine for norovirus appear positive, providing optimism that a vaccine can be developed for this common cause of gastroenteritis," said lead researcher Dr. David Bernstein, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati.

"More testing will be necessary to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective," he said. "If this can be duplicated in larger trials, it could lead to the availability of a new vaccine for a very common illness."

The results of the study were to be presented Friday at ID Week 2013, the infectious diseases society conference in San Francisco.

Currently, there is no treatment or cure for the highly contagious virus, the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children and adults.

Outbreaks occur in close quarters, such as health care facilities, child care centers, schools and military bases in addition to cruise ships, the researchers said.

The vaccine might be useful for people in any of those settings, Bernstein said. Ocean-going travelers, for instance, could add the vaccine to their to-do list before departure.

But first, Bernstein hopes to test the vaccine in a larger "real-world" trial.

Dr. Jesse Reeves-Garcia, chief of the division of gastroenterology at Miami Children's Hospital, said the idea of a vaccine for norovirus is "fascinating."

"Norovirus ruins people's lives," he said. "They take a vacation, they take a cruise and spend three of four days in the toilet puking or pooping or both," he said.

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