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Experimental Vaccine For Stomach Flu Might Work

Nothing ruins a nice cruise or a gluttonous run down the office party buffet like the norovirus.

The obnoxious virus causes the euphemistically-named stomach flu and is one of the most common foodborne illnesses. If you catch it, there's no drug to make you better. You pretty much have to ride out the diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain for a few days.

For now the best way to prevent the illness is with good hygiene. Even then, the highly contagious virus is hard to contain. So there's growing interest in a vaccine.

An experimental vaccine being developed by LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals has been tried in a study involving almost 100 people. And the results, though preliminary, suggest a vaccine could help protect people from norovirus.

In the test, half the people got two spritzes of vaccine in the nose three weeks apart. The others got placebo spritzes on the same schedule.

Three weeks after the second spritz, the study volunteers faced a pretty tough test. They had to swallow 10 times the amount of norovirus that is usually enough to infect half the people exposed to it.

What happened? More than two-thirds of the people who got placebo came down with stomach flu. Only 37 percent of those who got two doses of the vaccine did. Side effects that could have been related to the study were about the same in both groups.

The result come with some caveats. The vaccine didn't lead to as strong an immune response as a natural infection. It's also not clear how long a vaccine's protection would last. And there are lots of different noroviruses, so a vaccine won't really be ready for prime time until it can tackle several of those at the same time.

Still, the researchers conclude, the study "shows that it may be possible to use a vaccination strategy to prevent norovirus disease."

The work was funded by LigoCyte and the National Institutes of Health. The results appear in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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