Dr Joanne Hewitt is a Senior Scientist in the Enteric, Environmental and Food Virology/ Norovirus Reference Lab and has been at ESR since 1997.
Joanne’s work involves lots of different projects and she says, “No two days are the same, which I love.” Her team does work for the Ministry of Health, commercial clients, and is involved in different research projects. Their findings help identify the source of viral outbreaks and inform decision makers on policy and guidelines. One of her career highlights was working on what was at the time the largest waterborne outbreak in New Zealand. The norovirus outbreak was at a ski field in Cardrona. “Rapid testing is useful for outbreak management,” she said.
The persistence and survival of enteric viruses and sourcing faecal contamination in food and the environment, investigating novel approaches for viral detection, and outbreak surveillance are her research focuses. Norovirus is her biggest interest but rotavirus and hepatitis A virus are among others she looks at. Joanne is connected with researchers all over the world through surveillance networks like Noronet and HAVnet. “It’s like having an extended scientific family,” she says. “Everybody knows each other.” As one of the only people in New Zealand who studies the epidemiology of noroviruses, meeting with similar researchers at international conferences is invaluable. “They’re hard work but you come back buzzing with ideas.”
Shellfish is a big focus of a lot of Joanne’s research and communicating with the industry is really important. “Our work assists the industry so the industry can grow. We can’t do it without their buy-in.” At a recent NZ Oyster Industry Association conference she got to speak to oyster farmers and people on the ground about what they do. “They’re so innovative, it’s amazing really.” Outbreaks from shellfish consumption are an exciting part of Joanne’s work too. Finding the common thread between shellfish or waterborne samples by sequencing genetic information is like “hitting the jackpot”. “You’re helping the public health unit by providing knowledge they can act on.”
Joanne earned both her BSc Hons in biology and chemistry and her MSc in biomedical science, virology from Nottingham Trent University. In 2015 she completed a PhD in biological sciences at the University of Auckland.