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1935-1936: Polio virus was thought to be inhaled into the nose, traveling to the brain via the olfactory nerves. The theory was that protection could be gained by erecting an impenetrable barrier around the olfactory nerves. Protection against the virus could not be gained unless the protective spray had temporarily destroyed the sense of smell. Various intranasal chemicals were tested for polio protection and for human safety. Zinc ions were postulated to “coagulate natural proteins in the olfactory epithelium, forming a protective coating around the nerves which prevented them from absorbing the polio virus.” The watchword became, “Protect the nose and prevent polio.”
1937: During a polio epidemic in Toronto over 5,000 children received intranasal zinc sulfate. Most of the children suffered “some discomfort” from the nasal spray. There were a few cases, however, of “severe nasal pain” that “continued for many hours.” “It was many months later that Schultz began receiving complaints from physicians that many of their patients had suffered a complete and permanent loss of the sense of smell.” Zinc sulfate had not protected the children against polio and the toxic effect of the intranasal spray upon human olfactory epithelium was clearly shown. Interindividual variation in drug response and drug toxicity was seen. The use of intranasal zinc was abandoned.