Norovirus (NoV) is the principal agent of bivalve molluscan shellfish–associated gastroenteric illness worldwide. Currently, noncultivable human NoVs can be detected in bivalve molluscan shellfish by using molecular methods such as real-time reverse transcription PCR assays (qRT-PCR). In addition to infectious viruses, this methodology may also detect noninfectious NoV, including fragments of the NoV genome. This study addresses, in part, the implications of qRT-PCR results for the detection of NoV in shellfish in the absence of an infectivity assay. To evaluate environmental persistence, the stability of a short fragment of the NoV genome, spanning the qRT-PCR target in the open reading frame 1/2 junction, was assessed in seawater under artificial environmental conditions simulating winter in the United Kingdom (1 mW/cm2 UV irradiation, 8°C) during a 4-week period. Detectable RNA levels decreased exponentially (T90 of approximately 141 h); however, sequences were still detectable for up to 2 weeks. The ability of Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) to bioaccumulate NoV particles (from human feces) and RNA fragments was also compared using qRT-PCR. Oysters exposed to NoV particles subsequently were positive for NoV by qRTPCR at levels several orders of magnitude in excess of the theoretical limit of detection, whereas oysters exposed to similar quantities of NoV RNA were either negative or positive at significantly lower levels. Therefore, although noninfectious fragments of NoV RNA may persist in the environment under winter conditions, this type of material will not be efficiently bioaccumulated by Pacific oysters and should not significantly contribute to positive qRT-PCR results.

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