Polio virus is found to infect the body by the mouth and not the nose

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet in the lab, 1940
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet research into the polio virus contributed to the development of the oral vaccine

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet discovers polio enters the body via the mouth, providing clues as to how the viral disease could be prevented.

Paralysing disease

In 1937, a major polio outbreak in Melbourne affected about 1800 people. The institute’s virology department, by then well established, investigated the virus behind this epidemic.

Burnet, together with research fellow Alan Jackson, and backed by the financial support of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), conducted experiments that showed that infection could occur through the mouth – rather than via the nose, as was then thought. They also found that the virus multiplied in the intestine and that the associated invasion of the brain and spinal cord was an unfortunate by-product.

American scientists Howard Howe and David Bodian were doing similar, if more extensive experiments, with the same results. The findings formed the basis for the oral vaccine against polio that was released in the early 1960s.

View related events
Multiple strains of the polio virus discovered, an early step towards the Salk vaccine.
The NHMRC is established, initially focusing on medical research, with a £30,000 allocation.