Detection of Norovirus GII.17 Kawasaki 2014 in Shellfish, Marine Water and Underwater Sewage Discharges in Italy

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Norovirus (NoV) is a major cause of non-bacterial acute gastroenteritis worldwide, and the variants of genotype GII.4 are currently the predominant human strains. Recently, a novel variant of NoV GII.17 (GII.P17_GII.17 NoV), termed Kawasaki 2014, has been reported as the cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in Asia, replacing the pandemic strain GII.4 Sydney 2012. The GII.17 Kawasaki 2014 variant has also been reported sporadically in patients with gastroenteritis outside of Asia, including Italy. In this study, 384 shellfish samples were subjected to screening for human NoVs using real-time PCR and 259 (67.4%) tested positive for Genogroup II (GII) NoV. Of these, 52 samples, selected as representative of different areas and sampling dates, were further amplified by conventional PCR targeting the capsid gene, using broad-range primers. Forty shellfish samples were characterized by amplicon sequencing as GII.4 (n = 29), GII.2 (n = 4), GII.6 (n = 2), GII.12 (n = 2), and GII.17 (n = 3). Sixty-eight water samples (39 seawater samples from the corresponding shellfish production areas and 29 water samples from nearby underwater sewage discharge points) were also tested using the above broad-range assay: eight NoV-positive samples were characterized as GII.1 (n = 3), GII.2 (n = 1), GII.4 (n = 2), and GII.6 (n = 2). Based on full genome sequences available in public databases, a novel RT-PCR nested assay specific for GII.17 NoVs was designed and used to re-test the characterized shellfish (40) and water (8) samples. In this second screening, the RNA of GII.17 NoV was identified in 17 additional shellfish samples and in one water sample. Upon phylogenetic analysis, these GII.17 NoV isolates were closely related to the novel GII.17 Kawasaki 2014. Interestingly, our findings chronologically matched the emergence of the Kawasaki 2014 variant in the Italian population (early 2015), as reported by hospital-based NoV surveillance. These results, showing GII.17 NoV strains to be widespread in shellfish samples collected in 2015 in Italy, provide indirect evidence that this strain has started circulating in the Italian population. Notably, using a specific assay, we were able to detect many more samples positive for GII.17 NoV, indicating that, in food and water matrices, broad-range assays for NoV may grossly underestimate the prevalence of some, less common, NoVs. The detection of the GII.17 strain Kawasaki 2014 in clinical, water and food samples in Italy highlights the need for more systematic surveillance for future disease control and prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-333
Number of pages8
JournalFood and Environmental Virology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Discharge water
  • Nested RT-PCR
  • Norovirus GII.17
  • Seawater
  • Shellfish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Food Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Virology


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