‘Highly infectious’ norovirus clusters show resistance to disinfectants, scientists warn of ‘superbug’

WASHINGTON — Scientists are warning of a new disinfectant-resistant superbug that can cause serious stomach infections. They say there is currently no defense against dangerous norovirus clusters behind these infections.

Research shows that the virus clusters can also survive UV light, which is used to kill germs in water treatment plants. Noroviruses cause diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain, fever, lack of energy and dehydration. The brutal viruses can also be fatal.

In 2018, researchers discovered the bugs could be transmitted to humans via membrane-enclosed packets that contain more than one virus. In the past, scientists thought that viruses spread through exposure to individual virus particles, but the 2018 study showed how membrane-enclosed clusters arrive at a human cell and release an army of viruses all at once.

Now, the fresh study out of George Washington University shows that conventional disinfectant techniques are powerless against these clusters. The findings are leading study authors to call for methods to be “revisited.”

“These membrane-cloaked viruses are tricky,” says Dr. Denmeng Shuai, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at GW, in a statement. “Past research shows they can evade the body’s immune system and that they are highly infectious. Our study shows these membrane enclosed viruses are also able to dodge efforts to kill them with standard disinfectants.”

Infections lead to gastroenteritis, which causes symptoms like vomiting and stomach pain.

Is there any way to stop these norovirus clusters?

According to the researchers, more studies are needed to find out out if certain kinds of cleaning solutions or higher dosages of UV light would break down the protective membrane and kill the viruses inside. They hope more effective disinfection methods that could be used to clean surfaces at home, in restaurants and in places where norovirus can spread and cause outbreaks, like cruise ships.

“Our study’s findings represent a step towards providing rigorous guidelines for pathogen control, particularly in our built environment, and public health protection,” says Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet, from the Host-Pathogen Dynamics at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.