If you've never had a personal encounter with the norovirus, consider yourself lucky. The virus, which causes severe diarrhea and vomiting in human, is extremely contagious. It gained regained its notoriety in several well-publicized cases of outbreaks in cruise ships, and is estimated to have caused over 90% of epidemic nonbacterial gastroenteritis in the world. Yet, scientists don't have a very good understanding of the virus and how it works.
That's where "Vomiting Larry" comes in:
"Norovirus is one of the most infectious viruses of man," said Ian Goodfellow, a professor of virology at the department of pathology at Britain's University of Cambridge, who has been studying noroviruses for 10 years. [...]
What makes this such a formidable enemy is its ability to evade death from cleaning and to survive long periods outside a human host. Scientists have found norovirus can remain alive and well for 12 hours on hard surfaces and up to 12 days on contaminated fabrics such as carpets and upholstery. In still water, it can survive for months, maybe even years.
At the Health and Safety Laboratory in Derbyshire, northern England, where researcher Catherine Makison developed the humanoid simulated vomiting system and nicknamed him "Vomiting Larry", scientists analyzing his reach found that small droplets of sick can spread over three meters.
"The dramatic nature of the vomiting episodes produces a lot of aerosolized vomit, much of which is invisible to the naked eye," Goodfellow told Reuters.
Larry's projections were easy to spot because he had been primed with a "vomitus substitute", scientists explain, which included a fluorescent marker to help distinguish even small splashes - but they would not be at all easily visible under standard white hospital lighting.
See Vomiting Larry in action: