Oregano: A weapon against the norovirus?

WASHINGTON — A powerful weapon against the nasty norovirus could be as close as your neighborhood pizzeria.

Oregano is an herb commonly used in pizza and other Mediterranean dishes. The natural oil in the oregano provides its distinctive aroma and taste, and that oil has captured the attention of medical researchers.

Experiments at the University of Arizona have shown that a substance in oregano oil called carvacrol actually breaks the outer coating of the virus, making it easier to kill the bug.

Norovirus is often referred to – incorrectly – as stomach flu because it usually comes on suddenly and leaves patients reeling from bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. It is commonly linked to food handling, and outbreaks are common in close quarters, such as the recent norovirus outbreaks that sickened hundreds on three cruise ships.

Carvacrol’s most likely use would be in combination with other antimicrobial and disinfectant agents. And since it is safe and non-toxic, it is most likely to appear in things such as hand sanitizer.

And no, just eating pizza does not provide protection from the norovirus. Ingesting pure oregano oil also is a bad idea because concentrated carvacol causes a burning sensation and then numbness of the tongue.

The research was published Tuesday in the Society for Applied Microbiology’s Journal of Applied Microbiology.

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