According to CDC, norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness and outbreaks in the US. To combat the spread of this highly contagious pathogen, APHL works with CDC to support CaliciNet, the national surveillance network of public health laboratories that detect and subtype norovirus strains associated with gastroenteritis outbreaks in the US. Armed with data from CaliciNet laboratories, CDC scientists can monitor circulating and emerging strains and compare strains from different outbreaks to identify those connected to a common source.
With support from CDC's Division of Viral Diseases, APHL funds five laboratory outbreak support centers certified to test and sequence strains from norovirus outbreaks in their regions. These centers shoulder a heavy workload. Between July 2016 and June 2017, the centers – located at the California Department of Public Health; Idaho Bureau of Laboratories; New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center; Tennessee Department of Health; and Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene – tested and subtyped norovirus strains from over 100 viral gastroenteritis outbreaks. Such efforts have led to multistate product recalls and a fuller understanding of the norovirus strains predominating in the US.
APHL facilitates collaboration among the centers, and between the centers and partner laboratories via regular conference calls. Participants share successes, best practices and needed improvements with a community of laboratorians and epidemiologists. They compare methods for initial norovirus testing, insights from outbreaks, and review information concerning shipping, testing capacity and turn-around time. CDC CaliciNet also provides updates on testing protocols and database scripts.
In addition to facilitating collaboration among CaliciNet centers and partners, APHL also sponsors trainings, including CaliciNet technical user group meetings and hands-on trainings on methods and software. Recent examples include:
- A user group meeting in 2016 that brought together over 30 laboratorians and epidemiologists from 26 states to exchange status reports and receive CDC test methods and database updates.
- A hands-on training in 2017 where 15 participants from 14 state and local jurisdictions were introduced to BioNumerics software, CaliciNet scripts and methods for diagnosis and subtyping of norovirus.
With norovirus threatening at hospitals, cruise ships, schools, restaurants and elsewhere, APHL and CDC will have no lack of work as they continue to develop CaliciNet into a bulwark against outbreaks of this troublesome and persistent pathogen.
For more information on APHL's work to support CaliciNet, contact APHL's Food Safety Program Manager, Kirsten Larson.