Change Text Size
Email Columns Print page
Columns: The Online newspaper for the University of Georgia community
Show Index
August 30, 2010   Columns Articles | Inside UGA | For all hands on deck
Magnify Cannon, Jennifer-H.env.portrait
UGA food scientist Jennifer Cannon led a team that created a hand sanitizer that may drastically reduce the number of stomach viruses that ruin cruise ship vacations and everyday life.

For all hands on deck

Revolutionary new hand sanitizer could cut down on cruise ship illnesses

Sharon Dowdy

Public Relations Coordinator

Recent and archived articles by Sharon Dowdy

Office of Communications and Technology Services
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Work: 770/229-3219
By Sharon Dowdy | August 30, 2010

A hand sanitizer created by UGA scientists could soon help vacationers on cruise ships spend more time having fun on the lido deck and less time leaning over the side suffering from nasty stomach bugs.

The sanitizer kills norovirus, the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, in the U.S. Norovirus is commonly called the "cruise ship virus" for the public attention it gets for sickening hundreds or even thousands of cruise passengers and ruining family vacations. However, far more outbreaks are associated with hospitals, nursing homes, schools, daycare facilities and food, according to project leader Jennifer Cannon, who is an assistant professor with the Center for Food Safety in Griffin.

Approximately 60 percent of all cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. are caused by the norovirus. Many of these cases are the result of poor hand hygiene practices during food service, she said.

Cruise blues
Norovirus is easily transmitted from person to person. It causes 23 million illnesses each year, and 9.2 million of those are foodborne, Cannon said.

While the E. coli pathogen brings to mind undercooked hamburgers, norovirus is more frequently associated with foods that are consumed without cooking, such as salads, deli meats, fresh produce and raw oysters.

"Cruise ships are close settings where everyone is touching the same surfaces, and there's obviously nowhere to go to get away from each other," Cannon said.

If 2 percent of people aboard a cruise ship report gastrointestinal illness, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation Program must be notified. Fifteen of these reports were made last year, nine of which were confirmed to be caused by norovirus, Cannon said.

Norovirus symptoms typically show within 12 to 48 hours of exposure and usually include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and sometimes a fever.

"Typically, it will cause you to be ill [three to more than 20] times in a short period of time, and then you're fine," Cannon said. "It's very acute but usually has a very quick recovery time."

If a family member becomes ill, the whole family usually follows suit, she said.

Series of sanitizers
Cannon's hand sanitizer has its roots in research done by UGA faculty Michael Doyle and Tong Zhao, who created a similar formulation of the sanitizer to wash produce.

Doyle is a professor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and director of the Center for Food Safety. Zhao is a UGA CAES assistant research scientist at the center.

The wash is many times more powerful on foods than commercially available chlorine-based antimicrobials, yet its components are generally regarded as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union food industry. It's currently licensed to the maker of FIT Fruit and Vegetable WashTM through an agreement between the UGA Research Foundation Inc. and HealthPro Brands Inc., FIT's parent company.

Unfortunately, this wash solution is likely to have little effect on the norovirus, Cannon said. In addition to her hand sanitizer, she is currently working on a norovirus-killing produce wash solution.

Wash your hands
UGA has submitted a patent application for the hand sanitizer, which could be available to consumers by the summer of 2011.

Until the new virus-killing hand sanitizer and produce wash solution are commercially produced, Cannon says frequent hand washing is still the best defense.

"You should wash your hands every time after you use the restroom or change diapers and before you touch your mouth or smoke a cigarette and every time you eat food," she said.

To wash your hands well enough to get rid of germs, use warm, soapy water and rub them together long enough to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. Cannon says ethanol sanitizers should be used as a supplement, not a replacement for hand washing.

More from this issue

  • August 30, 2010

    Ecologist looks at oil spill impact on oysters

    Marine ecologist Jeb Byers had his summer field season planned. He had recently been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to examine the food web structure and ecosystem function of oyster reefs across the Southeast, from the Atlantic coast of Virginia to the Gulf coast of Florida. The grant was to begin in June, and he and his colleagues were preparing to begin sampling then-until the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion in April changed their plans. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    $2.9 million grant will help English language learners

    UGA education researchers have received a $2.9 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to examine the effectiveness of a teaching method based on small-group dialogue in improving the academic achievement of English language learners in upper elementary grades. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Researchers receive grants to assess environmental impacts of Gulf oil spill

    Two UGA marine sciences researchers, Samantha Joye and Patricia Medeiros, have received rapid response grants from the National Science Foundation to further assess the environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Magazine ranks UGA among top 20 public universities

    UGA is tied for 18th among public universities-up from 21st in 2010-and tied for 56th overall-up from 58th-according to the U.S. News&World Report's 2011 edition of America's Best Colleges. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    New horizons

    UGA's Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities is partnering with the Faculty of Engineering and the Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute to expand opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research with faculty mentors. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Science journalist Maryn McKenna to discuss ‘superbug’ staph infections

    Science journalist and author Maryn McKenna will share some powerful stories from her recent book, Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, in two public programs slated for Aug. 31 and Sept. 2. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Veterinary medicine college, law school welcome new students

    The School of Law and College of Veterinary Medicine have welcomed new classes of students to campus. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Forum to focus on handling active campus shooters

    As part of National Preparedness Month, a forum about active shooters will be held Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Tate Student Center's Reception Hall. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Coping skills

    Disease is a private matter to many of us. For myriad reasons, we want to keep it to ourselves, and no cluster of disorders challenges patients' need for privacy more than inflammatory bowel disease. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Management information systems faculty member named L. Edmund Rast Professor of Business

    Management information systems faculty member Elena Karahanna has been named the L. Edmund Rast Professor of Business in the Terry College of Business. Continue

  • August 30, 2010

    Lucky find

    Wayne Parrott has answered a question that has stumped plant breeders for the past century: Why do some white clover plants have four leaves? Continue

Columns is produced by the University of Georgia | Division of Marketing & Communications | Feedback