Researchers Built a Puking Machine to Gain Insight Into Viral Infections

Puking all winter might be a thing of the past. Adding to the list of odd inventions, scientists have put together a machine that spews puke. But, the oddity ends there. This simulated vomiting machine could actually tell how a highly contagious viral infection spreads to others.

The study used Jell-O to simulate Puking

Human norovirus is a contagious viral infection, responsible for more than half the food-borne diseases outbreaks. In addition to contaminated food, vomiting is also thought to cause the spread of norovirus.

Also called the ‘winter vomiting bug’, this virus most commonly spreads in hotels, schools, and cruise ships. Though vomiting is known to release particles containing norovirus into the air, how and why this could be transmitted to someone nearby is unknown. To answer this question, scientists at the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University and the Section on Gastroenterology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine collaboratively built the puking machine. This machine has a human-like face with an opening for a mouth connected to a simulated esophagus and stomach. They built the device to mimic the geometric proportions of the food canal and also simulated the velocity with vomit is generally ejected.

The machine was placed in a sealed Plexiglass box; on one side this device was connected to a pump that would deliver the vomit, and on the other side, a device would capture the vomit particles in air for testing. To mimic the different vomit consistencies, they used saliva for the liquid version and vanilla flavored Jell-O for a more solid puke.

Vomiting releases virus particles in the air

The researchers used an organism called the MS2 bacteriophage⎯a virus similar to norovirus but not pathogenic⎯for the puke test. When they tested a mixture of the virus in the vomit medium, they found that between 36 to more than 13, 000 viral particles could be released into the air after a projectile vomit. This is more than the minimum viral load (20-1300 particles) required for a norovirus infection. This study clearly provides evidence for the ease of transmitting norovirus via the vomiting route.

The implications for the spread of norovirus infection

Norovirus affects 19-21 million people every year in the United States. We now know that vomiting could release the virus into the air, which may cause it to land on a person’s mouth. It could even land on high-touch objects like doorknobs or phones, putting others who use these objects at risk. This study therefore underscores the importance of good hygiene and sanitation, which could easily prevent the spread of this nasty infection.

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