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May 16, 1986

What Stalked Through the Post Office? What Intellect, What Calculation, Number, Measurement, Replied?

Author Affiliations

Medical College of Ohio Toledo

JAMA. 1986;255(19):2606. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370190090029

To the Editor.—  We applaud the botanical sleuthing of Fairbrothers and associates that led to the legume Mucuna pruriens as the cause of an unexplained "voodoo" pruritus in seven individuals in New Jersey.1I recalled a dramatic episode of itching that occurred in the Main US Post Office (30th Street Station) in Philadelphia one afternoon in March 1954. Twelve mailroom workers suddenly developed a severe generalized pruritus that rendered them incapable of anything but ceaseless scratching. Close questioning revealed that each of the 12 had handled or had been near a large, manila, paperwrapped carboard box moments before the itch developed. The box had just arrived from Jamaica and was addressed to us.A hurried telephone call to us provided prompt identification of the problem and reassurance as to its temporary nature. The box was filled with several thousand seed pods from the itch plant M pruriens (Fig 1),