1973: Rotavirus discovered by Ruth Bishop


Rotavirus, the cause of a deadly form of severe gastroenteritis, discovered by Ruth Bishop.

It was a major breakthrough in one of the most significant causes of global infant mortality at the time. About 10,000 Australian children were being hospitalised with the disease every year. In most cases, doctors didn’t know what was causing the acute gastroenteritis.

That was until Ruth and her team identified the Rotavirus under an electron microscope.

Four decades later, vaccines have been developed as a direct result of the breakthrough, which Graeme likens to the discovery of polio and esteemed immunologist Sir Gus Nossal once described as a ‘great hallmark of Australian science’.

It earned Ruth, who is now in her eighties, the prestigious Florey Medal in 2013 – the first time a woman was honoured with the award.

Since the discovery, hospital admissions for acute gastroenteritis in Australia have dropped to under 2,000 a year. The gastroenteritis ward at RCH no longer exists. It isn’t needed.

However, the fight against rotavirus isn’t over. Tragically, the life-threatening diarrhoeal disease still kills about half a million children under the age of five a year, mostly in developing countries.

Ruth Bishop, 1973
The Royal Children's Hospital; Parkville, Victoria
Gelatin silver photograph