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Scientists close in on vaccine for stomach flu

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 6:42 p.m.

TOKYO — As a new strain of stomach flu leaves a trail of stomach-clenching illness from Sydney to San Diego, scientists are moving closer to thwarting it for good.

Early-stage human studies on a vaccine against norovirus, the top source of gastroenteritis in the United States, are set to finish this year. A course of shots may confer lifelong protection against 95 percent of strains, said Rajeev Venkayya, who heads Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.'s vaccines unit.

A norovirus vaccine would be a boon to cruise ships, schools and nursing homes struggling to deal with a highly contagious, untreatable scourge. Of the 21 million people infected in the United States annually, about 800 die, mostly the very young and the elderly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Given the highly infectious nature of norovirus and its ability to cause extensive outbreaks in hospitals, elder-care facilities and cruise ships, there is a need for prophylactic and preventative approaches to guard against infection,” said Peter White, a microbiology professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Norovirus can be caught from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.

If approved, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.'s norovirus vaccine would be the first to protect people against the germ.

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