Laboratory diagnosis of norovirus: which method is the best?

Intervirology. 2003;46(4):232-8. doi: 10.1159/000072433.


Noroviruses (NV) are transmitted by fecally contaminated food, vomit, and person-to-person contact. They are one of the main causes of non-bacterial acute gastroenteritis in nursing, old people and children's homes. NV outbreaks are characterized by a short incubation period (12-48 h), nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and high secondary attack rates. The illness is generally mild and self-limiting. The aim of diagnostic procedures in viral gastroenteritis is to avoid nosocomial infections on the one hand and unnecessary antibiotic treatment on the other. Diagnostic procedures for NV are based on the detection of virus in stool samples by (immune) transmission electron microscopy (TEM), antigen ELISA, or polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In our study, a total of 244 stool samples obtained from 227 patients between March and May 2002 were tested by TEM, antigen ELISA and in-house PCR. Our data showed that PCR has the highest sensitivity (94.1%), followed by TEM (58.3%), and ELISA (31.3%), while specificity was highest for TEM (98.0%), followed by ELISA (94.9%), and PCR (92.4%). All three methods tested (TEM, ELISA and PCR) are useful for epidemiological investigations in gastroenteritis outbreaks; however, to maximize diagnostic validity for individual cases, at least two of the methods should be combined.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, Viral / analysis
  • Base Sequence
  • Caliciviridae / genetics
  • Caliciviridae / immunology
  • Caliciviridae / isolation & purification
  • Caliciviridae / ultrastructure
  • Caliciviridae Infections / diagnosis*
  • Caliciviridae Infections / transmission
  • Caliciviridae Infections / virology
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay / statistics & numerical data
  • Feces / virology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Middle Aged
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / statistics & numerical data
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Antigens, Viral
  • DNA, Viral