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New UNC experiments show very weak chlorine solutions can kill noroviruses

Chlorine solutions much weaker than previously believed can still be used to kill more than 99 percent of noroviruses, the chief cause of outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness around the world, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes.

Researchers presented their findings over the weekend at the 2005 International Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, which ends today (Dec. 19) in Washington, D.C. They discovered for the first time that dilute solutions of hypochlorous acid, or free chlorine, as low as 200 -- or even 20 -- milligrams per liter will completely inactivate noroviruses on surfaces such as stainless steel and ceramic tile.

Dr. Mark D. Sobsey, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC School of Public Health, and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Geunwoo Park conducted the research. They also found that the dilute chemical worked quickly -- in five minutes or less.

"This is good news since noroviruses are the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis," said Sobsey, director of the school's Environmental Health Microbiology Laboratories. "They have caused countless outbreaks of gastroenteritis in health-care facilities, schools, food establishments, hotels and resorts and on cruise ships."

Decontamination of affected facilities can prove difficult since the viruses persist on environmental surfaces and are resistant to some widely used sanitizers, he said. And they are highly infectious even at low doses.

In their studies, the scientists dried a group II norovirus -- the predominant form circulating in the USA -- and a widely used indicator virus, bacteriophage MS2 infecting E. coli, on stainless steel and ceramic surfaces, Sobsey said. After treating those surfaces with a 200 milligrams per liter solution of hypochlorous acid for one minute, they tested them to learn how much virus remained. The viruses dropped 99.99 percent.

"Even a lower concentration of 20 m
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Contact: David Williamson
rdtokids@email.unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
19-Dec-2005


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