No defence against new ‘superbug’ virus clusters, claim scientists

Structures containing clusters of viruses, including norovirus, are illustrated within the gut. (Credits: NIH / SWNS)

Scientists have warned of a new disinfectant-resistant superbug — and say there is currently no defence against it.

These are dangerous norovirus ‘clusters’ that can also survive UV light, which is used to kill germs in water treatment plants.

Noroviruses cause diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain, fever, lack of energy and dehydration and can be fatal.

In 2018, researchers discovered the bugs could be transmitted to humans via membrane-enclosed packets that contain more than one virus.

In the past, scientists thought that viruses spread through exposure to individual virus particles, but the 2018 study showed how membrane-enclosed clusters arrive at a human cell and release an army of viruses all at once.

Now, a fresh study has shown that conventional disinfectant techniques are powerless against these clusters — promoting researchers to call for methods to be ‘revisited.’

‘Tricky’ membrane-cloaked viruses

Dr Danmeng Shuai, Associate Professor of civil and environmental engineering at the George Washington University in the US, said: ‘These membrane-cloaked viruses are tricky.

‘Past research shows they can evade the body’s immune system and that they are highly infectious.

‘Our study shows these membrane enclosed viruses are also able to dodge efforts to kill them with standard disinfectants.’

Infections lead to gastroenteritis — which causes symptoms like vomiting and stomach pain.

Several thousand cases are reported annually in the UK, but numbers since last year have so far been ‘substantially lower’ than the previous five years.

High-dose UV light

A poll worker sanitises a polling station in Lima on April 10, 2021. (AFP)

According to the researchers, more studies are needed to find out out if certain kinds of cleaning solutions or higher dosages of UV light would break down the protective membrane and kill the viruses inside.

They hope more effective disinfection methods that could be used to clean surfaces at home, in restaurants and in places where norovirus can spread and cause outbreaks, like cruise ships.

Dr Nihal Altan-Bonnet, from the Host-Pathogen Dynamics at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the US National Institutes of Health, added: ‘Our study’s findings represent a step towards providing rigorous guidelines for pathogen control, particularly in our built environment, and public health protection.’

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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