Researchers have discovered why some stomach bugs hit us so hard — and spread so fast.New research published Wednesday in Cell Host & Microbe found that stomach infections, like norovirus and rotavirus, are more contagious and more potent when the virus particles cluster together.

These findings may help treat — and even prevent — these viruses more effectively.The research began in 2015, when the researchers were studying polioviruses for a different project. It was led by Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet, who focuses on host-pathogen connections at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The researchers were looking, in particular, at vesicles — groups of viruses that clump together under protective membranes — compared with free-ranging viruses. Was there any difference, they wondered, in how the clustered and stand-alone viruses attacked our bodies?

Before this new research, scientists thought individual particles of a virus spread illnesses more effectively. It seemed like basic arithmetic. If you have 1,000 virus particles, you have 1,000 chances for cells to become infected. If you have only 20 clusters of viruses, they have only 20 chances to attack cells. Right?

Nope. In 2015, the researchers discovered that the viral clusters were much more effective at attacking human cells. But those results were from laboratory experiments. Could the same hold true in real life?

According to this study, yes. There’s strength in numbers. The virus particles glom together and become their own sort of organism, and then they bombard our tissues with an overwhelming dose of the illness.

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