Frank writes:

Dear TWIV Luminaries,

In TWIV 515 you described a case of Vaccinia virus respiratory infection in Chinese workers exposed to the ground skin of rabbits which had been inoculated with Vaccinia.  

In Between Hope and Fear, by Michael Kinch (a science pick by Dickson, TWIV 511) he refers to a lecture by J. Needham, “China and the Origins of Immunology” (Lecture, Centre of Asian “Studies, University of Hong Kong” in which Needham describes in “Chinese tradition, the medical community had, since at least the year 1000 CE, adopted a practice of “nasal insufflation” to prevent smallpox. The idea behind this procedure was to isolate scabs from individuals who had suffered relatively mild cases of smallpox. This material was dried and refined into powder that was blown into the nose of healthy children.

These children might display some or all of the symptoms of a mild form of the disease, but the ancient Chinese recognized they would be spared the severity of extreme scarring and death that might accompany an infection later in life.”

Perhaps this ancient practice has remained in folklore as a safe practice leading to lax worker safety.

As always, thank you for piercing our ignorance with your ever accessible  and witty knowledge. From rumor to theory we are lucky you take us beTWIXt.

Best regards,


Retired science wranter in Sausalito