'Vomit machine' helps US scientists research spread of norovirus

Findings indicate debilitating stomach flu bug can be spread through airborne particles of human sick

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The Independent US

A machine built to throw up has been helping scientists at a US university study how the norovirus spreads.

The 'vomit machine' is in use at North Carolina State University, where scientists have some bad news - it looks as though the norovirus may be spread through airborne particles of human sick.

The machine, built and tested over two years, uses a hand pump and pressurised 'stomach' to heave into a vomit chamber, and is completed with a rather distressed-looking face.

In an online video, doctoral student Grace Tung Thompson, demonstrates how the machine works:

The norovirus is the highly contagious 'stomach flu' bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea, periodically striking down whole cruise ships full of people.

The bug is the main cause of gastroenteritis around the world, and is usually spread through contact with contaminated food.

But researchers suspected it was also spread through contact with aerosolised vomit particles, a concern since projectile vomiting is a symptom of the illness.

Researchers at North Carolina State used the vomit machine to test whether sick particles could be detected following projectile vomiting.

The machine was primed with a vanilla pudding 'sick mixture' contaminated with MS2, a norovirus-like pathogen.

The results, published in August, show that at least 36 norovirus particles would be airborne after a norovirus suffer throws up, twice the number needed to infect another person.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 21 million cases of the human norovirus in the US each year.