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Transmission routes of noroviruses, emerging human pathogens in food (NORISK ) (PHASE II)

Research project SD/AF/01B (Research action SD)

Persons :

  • Dr.  THIRY Etienne - Université de Liège (ULG)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2008-31/1/2011
  • Dr.  DIERICK Katelijne - Scientific Institute of Public Health (IPH)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2008-31/1/2011
  • Dr.  UYTTENDAELE Mieke - Universiteit Gent (UGent)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2008-31/1/2011
  • Dr.  DAUBE Georges - Université de Liège (ULG)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2008-31/1/2011
  • Mevr.  HERMAN Lieve - Instituut voor landbouw en Visserij Onderzoek (ILVO)
    Not-financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2008-31/1/2011

Description :


Noroviruses (NV) are among the most important causes of gastroenteritis in adults worldwide. In the Netherlands, the Public Health Institute investigated 153 outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis between 1994 and 1999. Of those outbreaks 17% were considered food-borne and 76% were presumptively caused by NV. Bivalve shellfish are notorious as a source of food-borne viral infections, because filter-feeding bivalves can concentrate viruses. Several other foods have been implicated as vehicles of transmission (fruits, vegetables, sandwiches) contaminated by contact with polluted water in the growing area or during processing or by unhygienic handling during distribution or final preparation. Furthermore, NVs are present in several animal species, raising important questions about zoonotic transmission and potential animal reservoir.

Project description


- Elaboration, optimization and evaluation of a real-time PCR format and determination of its specificity, sensitivity and robustness.
- Evaluation of the effectiveness of several virus concentration / viral RNA extraction and purification protocols from a variety of food matrices and elaboration of an appropriate extraction procedure in fresh produce/ready-to-eat foods.
- Development and implementation of a standard protocol with establishment of appropriate controls for routine detection of NVs in food stuffs (seafood and fresh products).
- Elucidation of transmission routes (zoonosis hypothesis) through molecular tracing, with a global view on NV strains circulating among human, animal and also in food.
- Tracing of outbreaks: scenario for coupling clinical data from NV outbreaks to their food-borne cause and risk profiling.
- Development of a risk profile.
- Tracing of the genetic evolution of NVs: genetic profiles and emerging of recombinants.


Real-time PCR methods: for the detection and surveillance purposes in the food chain, it is the objective to detect the NVs GGI and GGII by real time PCR will be based upon and compared to the method described by CEN (European Committee for Standardization) working group. However, the assay will be optimized and validated as no international standard is available yet.
Extraction methods are inevitable to concentrate the viral material and to remove inhibitory components in order to avoid false negative results with real-time PCR. So far no standardized method is available.
Epidemiological networks, human outbreak testing and tracing outbreaks: all human and food samples in case of food-borne outbreaks will be analysed by the methods set up in this project. All these samples will form a Belgian database.
Zoonoses and molecular typing: the first part of the project will consist in the set up of a sample collecting system (food, human and animal stools) and NV strains isolated will be studied. In a second part, the NV isolated strains will be used for studying the recombination intra and inter species, genogroup and genotype.
The information gathered at the level of agro-food, clinical, veterinary will be combined to elaborate a risk profile.
The originality of this project relies on the integration of the three aspects involved in the evaluation of the risk of transmission of NV by an analysis of the NVs: food, animal and human.

Interaction between partners

With all the partners, we will have internal meetings, at least every 6 months, to expose achievement and discuss about problems, next tasks and network coordination. Different partners could also have some meetings in between if necessary. A website will be developed with privileged access to the partners and an open access for outside people.

Diagnosis (Extraction, RT-PCR) - food : partners 2, 3, 4, 5
Strain typing - animal : partner 1
Recombination - animal-human : partner 1
Outbreak, Strain typing – human : partenaire 1, 3
Quantification - human-food : partners 1, 2, 5

Expected research results and/or products

- A sensitive and robust real-time RT-PCR method for the detection of the acknowledged GGI and GGII strains.
- An appropriate real-time RT-PCR method for the detection of a wide diversity of NV genogroups.
- An approved viral extraction method for detection of NV in food.
- A standard operating procedure for routine screening of NVs.
- Data gathered on the prevalence and distribution and genotypes of NV in fresh produce/ready-to-eat foods and shellfish, in human and animal species.
- Data on the incidence of NV as a cause of food-borne gastro-enteritis.
- Data on NVs in domestic animals.
- Development of a risk profile on NVs.
- Development of a network to identify the most important sources of NV and to present existing and potential for emerging recombinant types in Belgium.
- Elucidation of transmission routes of NVs.

Results and conclusions will be discussed in regular Technical Project Meetings with the members of the Users Committee (every 6 months).
Progress of the project will be presented in Interim and final (after 2 and 4 years) project reports.
An informative Internet Portal Site will be established.
More classical dissemination in (inter-)national peer reviewed scientific journals, presentations at (inter-)national conferences and workshops will also be of high importance.
The research consortium will make concerted efforts to render the project-related information accessible through sector-specific journals or appropriate media.
Bibliographic knowledge and experimental experience acquired during the project will be reported to the Scientific Committee of the Belgian Federal Agency for Safety of the Food Chain.
The progress and expertise built up with real time RT-PCR methods for detection of NVs will be communicated to the CEN working group.
At the end of the project, an open workshop will be organised to inform other interested parties (food industries and diagnostic laboratories, scientists, legislative authorities and inspection experts) on the project results.



C1 - The unit studies the pathogenesis of animal viral diseases and molecular genetic of viruses.
P2 - The microbial safety of food products is a key activity of the LFMFP. Research is focused on methods for the detection of emerging pathogens.
P3 - The department of microbiology is National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for foodborne outbreaks. Its responsibilities include laboratory-based surveillance of four important bacterial diseases in humans, as well as food microbiology.
P4 - The mission of ILVO consists of the execution and co-ordination of policy-supporting scientific research and its associated services, with a view to sustainable agriculture and fisheries.
P5 - Its laboratory is accredited and is the NRL for monitoring bacteriological and viral contamination of bivalve molluscs and also for food microbiology.

Contact information


Etienne Thiry
University of Liege
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of infectious and parasitic diseases, Virology
Bld de Colonster, 20, B43 b
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 42 51
Fax: +32 (0)4 366 42 61


Mieke Uyttendaele & Johan Debevere
Ghent University
Faculty of Bio-science Engineering
Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation
Coupure Links 653
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 61 78
Fax: +32 (0)9 225 55 10,

Katelijne Dierick & B. Brochier
Scientific Institute of Public Health
Department of Microbiology
Division of Bacteriology and Division Virology, NRL Foodborne outbreaks (FPS)
Rue Juliette Wytsman 14
B-1050 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0)2 642 51 53
Fax: +32 (0)2 642 53 27,

Lieve Herman
Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) – Technology and Food Unit (T&V)
Brusselsesteenweg 370
B-9090 Melle
Tel: +32 (0)9 272 30 00
Fax: +32 (0)9 272 30 01

Professor Georges Daube
University of Liege
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Food Sciences Department, Food microbiology
Bld de Colonster, 20, B43 b
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 40 15
Fax:+32 (0)4 366 40 44

Follow-Up Committee

Meetings with the follow-up committee will be organised twice a year.

Peter Bossier Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Claude Bragard Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
Patrick Goubau Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
Benoît Horion SPF Santé publique, Sécurité de la Chaîne alimentaire et Environnement
Chris Michiels Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)
Claude Saegerman Université de Liège (ULg)
Mia Schellekens Mondi Foods Belgium nv
Xavier Van Huffel Agence fédérale pour la sécurité de la chaîne alimentaire (AFSCA)
Marc Van Ranst Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)

Documentation :

Transmission routes of Noroviruses, emerging human pathogens present in the food chain : final report + annex  Thiry, Etienne - Daube, Georges - Uyttendaele, Mieke ... et al  Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2011 (SP2302)
[To download]  [To order

Transmissieroutes van norovirussen, opduikende humane pathogenen aanwezig in de voedselketen : samenvatting van de resultaten    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2011 (SP2303)
[To download

Voies de transmission des norovirus, agents pathogenes humains emergents présents dans la chaine alimentaire : résumé des résultats    Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2011 (SP2304)
[To download

Transmission routes of Noroviruses, emerging human pathogens present in the food chain : summary of the results    Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2011 (SP2305)
[To download

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