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New Test Simplifies Detection of Norovirus

Scientists create method for confirming virus with a common device

September 5, 2019

Facility managers concerned that their building’s water supply may be contaminated with norovirus may soon be able to confirm their suspicions without sending a water sample to a lab.

Researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, have created a simple, portable, and inexpensive method that will detect low levels of norovirus using a smartphone app. The app can be used by anyone, not just scientists or engineers. It just requires the user to place a water sample onto one side of paper microfluidic chip and tiny, fluorescent polystyrene beads to the other side. Each bead is attached to an antibody against norovirus. If norovirus is present, several of the antibodies attach to each virus particle, creating a clump of fluorescent beads. These clumps of beads are large enough for a smartphone microscope to detect and photograph. Then the smartphone app counts the number of illuminated pixels in the image to identify the number of norovirus particles in the water sample.

The most expensive component of the device—the smartphone microscope—costs less than US$50 and is simple to use.

Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach and intestines. Norovirus spreads easily, can survive on contaminated surfaces and in water, or be spread through touching an infected person.

Steam vapor disinfection is one method of removing norovirus from food service facilities and other buildings at risk of contamination from this contagious disease.

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