In January 1876 William Osler, a young Canadian physician, was recovering from a mild case of smallpox contracted while attending patients at the Montreal General Hospital (Figure 1). In a letter written that same month to an old schoolmate (ArthurJarvis), Osier described his illness and noted in closing, "You need not be afraid of this letter. I will disinfect it before sending." Concern about disseminating smallpox via the letter was well founded. In his medical textbook of 1892, Osler would later write that smallpox can be conveyed by fomites: "the dried scales [of variola scabs] ... as a dust-like powder ... become attached to clothing and various articles .... " The purpose of this paper is to review briefly the history of disinfecting mail, a topic of renewed interest following the 2001 anthrax-mail scare in this country.
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