Each year, norovirus infects 267 million people, and 21 million in the United States. Transmitted fecally, through person-to-person contact, and due to contact with contaminated foods and surfaces, the virus can quickly develop into cases of gastroenteritis. Most people survive it, as it tends to wear off within a couple of days, but the “winter vomiting disease” still kills about 200,000 people annually, according to the CDC. Recent reports of cruise ships full of vomiting passengers—that were forced to return home early—read like some hellish, alternative ending to Love in the Time of Cholera.
Now, a favorite pizza herb is being studied for its apparent efficacy in breaking down the virus’ outer coat. Published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, new research has found that the primary active componenet in oregano essential oil, called carvacrol (the part of the herb that contains its smell and flavor), could be implemented with other antimicrobials to fight and control norovirus.
Dr Kelly Bright of University of Arizona explained "Carvacrol could potentially be used as a food sanitizer and possibly as a surface sanitizer, particularly in conjunction with other antimicrobials.” She added that a thorough evaluation of its efficacy will take some time, but is optimistic about harnessing its potential, as it has a unique way of fighting the norovirus.
The carvacrol was tested against a form of the virus administered to a mouse, which has similar properties of resistance to disinfectants like bleach and antimicrobials like Penicillin. Bright’s paper explains that as particles of the virus “appeared intact after the treatment with oregano oil,” they’d also enlarged, and “were possibly losing capsid integrity.” Norovirus, the paper explains, will have difficulty developing a resistance to carvacrol due to its breaking down of the virus’s outer, external proteins.
In addition to using the essential oil as an ingredient to possibly treat the virus, the research also points to the potential use of it in future sanitizers. Carvacrol could possibly be used in long-lasting antimicrobial surface cleaner, due to the longer time it takes to act than other disinfectants. Implementation of an antimicrobial agent using carvacrol could also prove beneficial in settings like schools, childcares and nursing homes, where populations may be sensitive to stronger chemical disinfectants.
Oregano has been used throughout history to conquer a variety of ailments, including bloating and nausea, and well—bland pizza. But could it be a key player stopping boatloads of tourists from puking everywhere? In terms of preventing norovirus, the herb's future looks promising.