March 20, 2014

By linking his model to NASA data, Deng is helping oyster harvesters prevent seafood contamination.

Dr. Zhiqiang Deng, associate professor of water resources and coastal engineering at Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering, became the first scientist in the world to accurately predict an oyster norovirus outbreak when he forecasted an outbreak in the Cameron Parish oyster harvesting area 30 weeks before it occurred. Norovirus, a highly contagious virus that causes severe abdominal and intestinal inflammation, is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis.

Deng’s work is funded by a $225,000 grant from NASA, and he used data gathered by NASA satellites to monitor environmental conditions along the Louisiana coast.

Collaborating with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Deng predicted the area would become contaminated with the virus more than two weeks before the LDHH closed it on December 28, 2012. Closures of highly productive oyster growing areas causes significant damages to the oyster industry, making it all the more important to determine outbreaks in advance.

“Norovirus outbreaks often occur 10 – 14 days after extremely low tide events during winter months or cold weather, when levels of fecal coliform, a bacterium that originates in feces, are high,” Deng said.

Outbreaks of norovirus have been a significant problem for the oyster farming industry. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), norovirus causes about 21 million illnesses annually. The virus typically spreads through contaminated water or food, including seafood, but can also transfer from human to human.

“If your friend eats an infected oyster and gets infected by the norovirus, then you may also get sick,” Deng said. “That is why it is important to prevent the norovirus outbreak in the first place.”

Deng and his research group have contributed to oyster norovirus contamination research by developing a proactive model for predicting oyster norovirus outbreaks that curtails both the health and economic costs of oyster norovirus outbreaks. The model involves prediction of future water quality conditions and bacteria levels.

Deng’s next project is creating an online database where oyster producers, government officials and public users can access real-time data about the environmental predictors of oyster norovirus growth using existing data repositories from around the country. He is also seeking funding to test his model in other oyster producing regions in the United States and abroad.

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Article by Liz Lebron, LSU College of Engineering communications graduate assistant. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, mlavall@lsu.edu, 225-578-5706.



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