A new study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology indicates oregano oil could hold the key to fighting norovirus—a contagious illness which causes gastroenteritis. Researchers believe the oil could help break down the tough protein protecting the virus cells and allow for another microbial to kill the cells directly.
Recently, hundreds of people aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise fell ill with nausea, diarrhea, fever, and cramping marking their unpleasant symptoms. Norovirus had taken hold of the ship and left many vacationers sequestered to their rooms, unable to eat let alone enjoy their journey. What they didn’t know was that their condition may have been helped by something as simple as oregano oil.
“This study provides novel findings on the antiviral properties of oregano oil and carvacrol against MNV and demonstrates the potential of carvacrol as a natural food and surface (fomite) sanitizer to control human norovirus.”
Norovirus is disgustingly referred to as the “winter vomiting disease” and is the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea globally. It spreads easily and is particularly troublesome in close quarters like hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.
For people on the Explorer of the Seas, wild ocean waters left the ship with doors and windows closed for two days, possibly making it even easier for the often foodborne illness to pass from one person to the next.
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Oregano oil and its active component known as carvacrol have increasingly been recognized for their antimicrobial activity.
“Carvacrol could potentially be used as a food sanitizer and possibly as a surface sanitizer, particularly in conjunction with other antimicrobials,” explained Dr. Kelly Bright of the University of Arizona. “We have some work to do to assess its potential but carvacrol has a unique way of attacking the virus, which makes it an interesting prospect.”
Because the human form of norovirus is so difficult to work on in the laboratory, the study and others like it are conducted on the mouse form of the virus, considered to be the most similar.
The oregano oil attacks the surrounding protein of the norovirus cell, known as the virus capsid. It breaks this layer down and would allow another antimicrobial access to the internal norovirus, according to the researchers.
Unlike antibiotics, the researchers say the norovirus wouldn’t likely develop a resistance to carvacrol because it’s attacking just the outermost layers. But it isn’t clear what “other” antimicrobial would be used to attack the internal norovirus once oregano oil has made it’s protective casing vulnerable.