Robot is latest tool in fight against Norovirus

Humanoid is helping researchers understand how winter vomiting bug spreads so fast

Scientists at the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) in Derbyshire have developed a vomiting robot as part of efforts to understand more about Norovirus and how it could be controlled in the future.

Known as ‘Larry’, the humanoid will help researchers to understand how far the infection spreads when patients vomit and how it moves in the air.

Larry is helping in the fight against Norovirus outbreaks

Ian Goodfellow, a professor of virology in the department of pathology at the University of Cambridge, said: “Norovirus is one of the most infectious viruses of man. It takes fewer than 20 particles to infect someone and in Britain so far this season more than a million people are thought to have suffered the violent vomiting and diarrhoea it can bring.”

Often referred to as the ‘winter vomiting bug’, outbreaks of Norovirus force the closure of hospital wards and cause major problems in nursing and care homes and other healthcare facilities.

What makes it such a formidable infection is its ability to evade death from cleaning and to survive for long periods of time outside a human host.

Investigations have found it can remain alive for 12 hours on hard surfaces and up to 12 days on contaminated fabrics such as carpets and upholstery.

In addition, it is resistant to normal household disinfectants and alcohol gel rubs.

Larry's purpose is to help researchers demonstrate and identify the extent of contamination during episodes of projectile vomiting by a Norovirus sufferer

In Britain in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, there were 70 hospital outbreaks in Britain, so efforts are continuing to find effective ways of preventing and controlling future outbreaks.

A vaccine is currently being developed, but trials are still to be undertaken before it can be made widely available.

Larry was developed by Catherine Makison of the HSL occupational hygiene unit and is primed with a vomitus substitute to which a fluorescent marker is added so as to identify even small splashes post vomiting.

An HSL spokesman said: “Larry's purpose is to help researchers demonstrate and identify the extent of contamination during episodes of projectile vomiting by a Norovirus sufferer.

“As a result our studies have shown that Norovirus can be isolated from these small droplets at concentrations capable of causing an infection. This information might highlight why this robust and highly-infectious virus is transmitted between people so readily.”

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