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Scientists built a vomit machine to study how a nasty stomach bug makes people sick

It’s science yo…

Image: Grace Thompson/North Carolina State University

PEOPLE HAVE DONE a lot of strange things in the name of science, but this one takes the cake (and spits it out).

In a recent study, a team of US scientists wanted to study how norovirus, a nasty stomach bug that commonly causes food poisoning, could be spread by vomiting.

So they built a vomit machine.

More than 20 million people in the US catch norovirus every year, according to their Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only about 5 million of those get infected from eating contaminated food — the majority of people catch the virus from other sick people, The New York Times reported.

Lee-Ann Jaykis of North Carolina State University and her colleagues built a vomit machine consisting of a fake stomach connected to a pump by a series of tubes, complete with a sad-looking clay face.

They used fake vomit mixed with pudding to get the right consistency, and mixed in a virus called MS2, which is similar to norovirus but can be grown in a lab, and is not as dangerous.

They even watched YouTube videos of people projectile vomiting, to get the process just right. For example, most people cough a few times after upchucking, so they included this in the simulation.

They found that the vomit machine did indeed spread the virus into the air, and it spewed slightly more of the virus when they increased the pump’s pressure, which corresponded with a person’s stomach pressure — the more pressure built up inside your stomach the higher the chance you have of projectile vomiting. Coughing also increased the amount of virus in the air.

Only 0.00007% to 0.03% of the vomit was aerosolised, which equates to between 40 and 10,000 virus particles. But it only takes between 20 and 1,300 norovirus particles to make someone sick, Jaykis told The New York Times.

In other words, it only takes a single bout of vomiting to spread the virus.

- Tanya Lewis for Business Insider


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