‘Vomiting device’ sounds gross but it helps study infections

Machine that simulates throwing up shows researchers how noroviruses spread

KEEP IT DOWN  The vomiting device, which mimics projectile vomiting, is equipped with a small human mask. The face provides aesthetic flair and also acts as a weight to keep the device’s “throat” curved, as a human’s throat is while vomiting. 

Grace Tung-Thompson 

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A mechanical system that imitates projectile vomiting.

Researchers in North Carolina use the barfing machine to study how human noroviruses, leading causes of upchucking worldwide, spread through the air.

The vomiting device’s tubes, valves, piston and pump imitate a human mouth, throat and stomach at one-quarter size. A clay face mask gives the machine an appropriate expression of misery, but it also provides weight to bend the throat down, simulating the flexed neck of a heaving human.

MACHINE MISERY The scientists conducted multiple “vomiting episodes” using different thicknesses of fake vomit. Tung-Thompson et al /PLOS ONE 2015
To determine how many viruses a patient might spread while puking, the researchers lace artificial vomit — made from imitation saliva or vanilla instant pudding, depending on the desired thickness — with a noninfectious virus similar to norovirus in shape and size. Using lifelike stomach pressure, the team ejects infected faux vomit from the device’s stomach into a plastic “vomitus containment chamber.” Another device tests air from the chamber for airborne viruses.

Every vomiting trial sent viruses into the air, the researchers say August 19 in PLOS ONE. The team estimates that depending on pump pressure and the virus concentration in the throw-up, as few as 36 and as many as over 13,000 virus particles were released by the mechanical spewing. Just 20 norovirus particles can cause infection, so vomiting probably can spread norovirus to more unfortunate victims.  

UPCHUCK Researcher Grace Tung-Thompson of North Carolina State University in Raleigh demonstrates the vomiting device in action.NoroCORE/YouTube

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