US: NASA awarded USD 400,000, as part of its Public Health Programme grant, to Zhiqiang Deng and his team. Deng is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Louisiana State University (LSU), US. According to Deng, this grant is for a two-year research project, which aims to develop a tool to allow regulators to forecast a norovirus outbreak in oysters in the Gulf of Mexico. Deng claimed that such tool can be developed using weather data, satellite imagery and computer modelling.
Deng is working on a computer model that obtains information from the state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), weather and satellite images from the NASA, and information from other federal agencies. The goal is to take conditions that contribute to the formation of norovirus outbreaks along the coast and try to forecast where they will occur, he said.
The norovirus can cause a ‘stomach flu-like’ illness that usually starts about a day or two after eating or drinking something with the virus. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, and sometimes people have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle ache and fatigue, according to DHH. Symptoms can last a day or two.
The norovirus can contaminate oysters, which happens mostly in winter months. Heavy rains that wash fecal coliform into the water or boaters who dump fecal matter overboard can lead to the norovirus forming in the water. That virus can then be passed to feeding oysters and transferred to humans when eaten.