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August 24, 2016

Travelers should be relieved to learn that scientists are one step closer to preventing norovirus, the most common illness to strike travelers that can cause stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.

Scientists at the University of Washington in Saint Louis have discovered the protein that allows norovirus, also known as “the cruise ship virus,” to bind to cells, according to research published in Science.

Norovirus is the top leading cause of diarrhea in the world and a blight to travelers everywhere. Common in any space where people are living in close quarters such as military barracks, or, most recently the Republican National Convention, the virus can keep a traveler running back and forth to the bathroom for hours.

It gained the nickname the “cruise shape virus” after a series of well-publicized outbreaks on ships, but industry experts say that name is a misnomer.

“Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships are rare, so it’s an inaccurate cliché when you see norovirus referred to as ‘the cruise ship virus,’” Elinore Boeke of the Cruise Lines International Association told Travel + Leisure.

Lead researcher Herbert “Skip” Virgin and his co-authors were able to grow mouse norovirus in a lab and discovered that a protein named CD300 allows the virus to bind to cells in mice. While the virus is not the same in mice and humans, mouse norovirus was able to enter human cells.

Many viruses do not need a protein to bind to a cell, and the particularities of this one may have been what made it so difficult to grown in a lab.

With this new information regarding CD300 and the viruses co-factors, the next phase of research will be to look into drugs that could block viral multiplication. Such drugs could be given to people at the center of an outbreak, and in particular to people with compromised immune systems.

“It will have implications for vaccine design,” Craig Wilen, one of the postdoctoral researchers in the study, told T+L.

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