Is this the answer to curbing norovirus, the dreaded disease that can affect hundreds of cruise passengers?

A team of researchers from the University of Arizona have developed a smartphone app and cheap microscope attachment which can detect early signs of norovirus in water, the most common cause of outbreaks of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain.

“It only takes a very small number of norovirus particles to cause an infection in humans, so we need a really sensitive detection method”, says Jeong-Yeol Yoon, leader of the research team.

The researchers converted an ordinary smartphone into a fluorescence microscope by attaching a commercially-available light microscope accessory. They then used an app to calculate the norovirus concentration.

The device could detect miniscule amounts of norovirus in both purified and reclaimed wastewater. Tap water is still prone to error because of the chlorine, but team members are working on a method to defeat this.

Norovirus can spread quickly through a community via its water supply.

Mr Yoon believes that water systems staff could use the device and app to check for norovirus in the water supply. It could even be made commercially available so anyone can check if an outbreak is imminent.

“You don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to run the device,” Mr Yoon said. “Analysis will be done automatically by the smartphone app, so all you have to worry about is loading a sample of water onto the chip.”

The most expensive component of the whole device – the smartphone microscope – costs less than US$50.

His research was recently presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego.