Can you and your dog share the norovirus?

Photo © martincp - Fotolia

Researchers find evidence the virus can be passed between humans and canines

Norovirus it's the one thing that can sink a cruise ship vacation. Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestine lining (gastroenteritis); they are the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. It infects 19-21 million Americans annually -- more than six percent of the US population, according to the CDC. 

Sometimes they are called food poisoning because they can be transmitted through food that's been contaminated with the virus.

They aren't always the result of food contamination, though. We don't usually associate them with our dogs either. Usually if you get sick you aren't worried that you caught it from the family dog or if the dog got sick that they caught it from you. You might now though.

According to research published at the beginning of the month in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology there is a possibility of dog to human transmission. The lead author of the study is  Sarah Caddy, a veterinarian and research fellow at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College.

Immune response

Caddy said the research revealed that some dogs can have an immune response to human norovirus.

“This strongly suggests that these dogs have been infected with the virus. We also confirmed that that human norovirus can bind to the cells of the canine gut, which is the first step required for infection of cells,” she said. 

To do the research on this they used non-infectious human norovirus particles, which consist solely of the virus’ outer protein, called the capsid. The capsid is the part of the virus that binds to host cells. By itself, it is non-infectious because it lacks genetic material.

The study didn't really show anything conclusive but did suggest that canine infection and transmission may really be a problem for humans. Even though dogs may be susceptible, they didn't see any type of norovirus in dogs' stool samples including dogs that had diarrhea. 

They did find it in serum samples though in about one-seventh of 325 dogs tested. 

Still not known

As of now it is still not known if human norovirus can make dogs sick. If a dog becomes infected with the human strain, it isn't known whether they could spread the virus with enough power to infect humans. It should be noted also that clinicians estimated that as few as 18 virus particles can cause human infection. 

It still is yet to be determined if dogs play any part in transmitting the disease and causing outbreaks. The places that see the most activity from the disease are places dogs aren't usually present such as cruise ships and hospitals.

Some symptoms of the norovirus include, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and it’s usually accompanied by a low grade fever. Dehydration is one fear of the virus so if you display any of the symptoms clear liquids are important. If severe dehydration develops, contact your doctor. 

Since nothing is definitive it's probably a good idea to just err on the side of caution. Wash your hands and hold off on the kisses until everyone feels better.

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