Burnet injects himself with myxomatosis, to prove it does not pose a danger to humans.

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet

The release of the myxoma virus to control rabbit populations coincides with an outbreak of Murray Valley encephalitis in northern Victoria. Many claim myxomatosis is responsible for the deadly encephalitis outbreak.

Putting theory to the test

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet is among those who argue there is no association between the two events.

Knowing evidence will benefit the public debate, Burnet agrees to a challenge issued by a councillor from Mildura – to inoculate himself with the myxoma virus to prove it is harmless to humans.

Burnet, Dr Ian Clunies-Ross and Dr Frank Fenner inject themselves with a dose of myxoma virus strong enough to kill 100-1000 rabbits. As expected, nothing happens, proving myxomatosis has no effect on humans and could not be responsible for the encephalitis outbreak in Victoria.

Public appreciation

On later describing the experiment to the Australian Parliament, CSIRO Minister Mr R. G. Casey is met with cheers. The Argus newspaper also applauds the risk the three scientists took for the sake of others, commenting “this news…is the kind of thing that goes far to restore our faith in human-kind”.

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