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Among enteric caliciviruses, noroviruses belong to the genus Norovirus, one of the four accepted genera in the family Caliciviridae. These single-stranded, positive-sense RNA viruses are highly variable both genetically and antigenically. Several animal enteric caliciviruses that are morphologically indistinguishable and genetically closely related to human noroviruses have been identified. The first bovine enteric noroviruses were described in Great Britain and are known as Newbury Agent 2. At least three genetic clusters of porcine noroviruses join together within genogroup II noroviruses. Human noroviruses are the most important cause of acute gastroenteritis illness in people of all ages. In the USA, they are associated with approximately 30–50% of all food-borne outbreaks. Until now, noroviruses have not been associated with gastroenteritis outbreaks in immunocompetent animals. Neither bovine nor porcine noroviruses can replicate in cell culture, although human norovirus can grow in a complex 3D culture system. However, the recently discovered murine noroviruses can replicate in cell culture and are therefore used as model viruses to study human noroviruses.
This review focusses on virus classification, virion structure, pathogenesis, epidemiology, immune response and diagnosis of animal noroviruses in comparison with human noroviruses. The classification of animal enteric caliciviruses within the Norovirus genus raises the question of whether transmission from an animal reservoir to humans could occur. Answering this question is important in determining the risk of cross-species infections affecting the epidemiology and evolution of these viruses and so complicating the control of human norovirus infections.