Norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis and is responsible for 65% of foodborne illnesses in Canada. In recent years, norovirus outbreaks are increasingly associated with consumption of raw oysters, with the largest outbreak linked to BC-harvested oysters occurring in the winter of 2016/2017 affecting hundreds of people across multiple provinces and causing an estimated 9.1-million-dollar loss to the shellfish industry as a result of farm shut-downs. The current surveillance and outbreak investigation method suffers from incomplete data and information, which limits its usability in source attribution for norovirus outbreaks. Therefore, it is imperative to improve laboratory methods to understand the sources of norovirus and reduce the burden of oyster-associated illnesses.
To tackle this challenge, the UPCOAST-N team will develop and evaluate a One Health target enrichment sequencing assay suitable for both human and oyster samples to improve sequence yields for norovirus. Additionally, the project will produce interpretation criteria and reporting templates for end-users at BC Centre for Disease Control and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Higher resolution sequence data will lead to better discrimination among strains and give greater confidence in the association between human cases and contaminated oysters. This research will ultimately lead to faster and more targeted recalls, faster outbreak response by regulating parties and closures of only contaminated shellfish growing areas.
The outcome of this work will further our knowledge of the distribution and transmission of norovirus in a One Health context, which is the key to evidence-based prevention and can be used to inform the population and rapidly remove the contaminated products from circulation to protect public health and BC’s shellfish industry. The improved turn-around time for outbreak investigations will help make BC’s food supply safer, and contribute to the prosperity of our shellfish industry.