Are some people more susceptible to the stomach flu (norovirus) than others?

Answer: Yes


"Stomach flu" is just a nickname for viral gastroenteritis. It is not related to influenza, the real flu. Current research suggests that some people are more susceptible to viral gastroenteritis than others. In a study where volunteers were infected with Norowalk virus, (anyone want to volunteer for that?) 82% became infected and 18% did not (lucky ducks). Of the 82% that became infected about 1/3 were asymptomatic and did not get sick (more lucky ducks)1. However, these asymptomatic people were carrying and transmitting the virus without knowing it.

A person’s blood type has also been shown to affect their susceptibility2. For the Norwalk virus strain, it has been determined that people with type B blood are less susceptible and people with type O blood get the sickest3. However, for another strain of norovirus, people with type O blood were less affected4. Here is a research paper that indicated that people with type A blood are less susceptible to norovirus.6  So, different strains of the virus affect people differently and scientists are still trying to figure it out. 

There is something else that is important in determining norovirus susceptibility. The GII norviruses, including GII.4 Sydney, rarely infect people who are "non-secretors". People who are non-secretors have mutations in the genes called FUT2. Because of these mutations, these people do not express their ABO blood group antigens in their saliva or gastrointestinal tract5. It is thought that Norovirus needs to bind to these ABO antigens in order to infect a person. Since these people don't have the antigens in their intestinal tract, they usually don't get sick from norovirus! The company 23 and Me USED to do this genetic test, but I'm not sure if they do it anymore. I had my DNA evaluated by 23 and Me.  As I expected, I am NOT resistant to norovirus. 

The kinds of bacteria in our gut might also influence whether or not we get to norovirus and it is related to blood type. Some bacteria also express the ABO antigens like we do. The bacteria in your gut will likely express the same ABO antigen as you do. This researcher found that some "good" bacteria, enterobacter cloacae, were required to HELP norovirus attack our cells. So, make sure that one is not in your probiotic. Here is an article explaining it. 

It is very important to clean with a product that actually kills norovirus when a stomach bug is in your home such as the Clorox® Hydrogen Peroxide Spray and Clorox Hydrogen Peroxide Wipes.

--Annie Pryor, Ph.D.


Viewer Comments

I have never had the stomach flu and I've never caught it from my kids. I have blood type B+.

--Lanie


1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8014518?ordinalpos=14&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum 

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18357756?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=4&log$=relatedreviews&logdbfrom=pubmed 

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12001052?ordinalpos=7&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14706273?ordinalpos=9&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198057/

6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716642/