From 1949 until 1953 Adelaide suffered a polio epidemic (poliomyelitis). Many nurses also contracted the illness while caring for patients. The most critically ill patients suffered muscle paralysis which, if it included the chest muscles, meant that patients could not breathe unaided. In these cases, an ‘iron lung’ – state-of-the-art in life support technology at the time – was used to support respiration.  Polio vaccines were introduced in Australia in 1956, helping to eradicate the disease.

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