Pox parties, also known as flu parties, are social activities in which children are deliberately exposed to infectious diseases such as chickenpox. Such parties originated to "get it over with" before vaccines were available for a particular illness or because childhood infection might be less severe than infection during adulthood, according to proponents. For example, measles is more dangerous to adults than to children over five years old. Deliberately exposing people to diseases has since been discouraged by public health officials in favor of vaccination, which has caused a decline in the practice of pox parties, although flu parties saw a resurgence in the early 2010s.
Effectiveness and riskEdit
Parents who expose their children to varicella zoster virus in this manner often do so out of the belief that acquiring immunity to chickenpox via infection is safer and more effective than receiving a vaccination. Similar ideas have been applied to other diseases such as measles. Pediatricians have warned against holding pox parties, however, citing dangers arising from possible complications associated with chickenpox, such as encephalitis, chickenpox-associated pneumonia, and invasive group A strep. These serious complications (e.g. brain damage or death) are vastly more likely than vaccine adverse events. Before the chickenpox vaccine became available, 100 to 150 children in the U.S. died from chickenpox annually. In the UK, chickenpox vaccinations are not routine, and around 25 people die a year from the disease, with 80% of victims being adults in the late 1990s. The chickenpox vaccine is now recommended by health officials, citing vastly superior safety when compared with infection.
Some parents have attempted to collect infectious materials, such as saliva, licked lollipops, or other infected items from people who claimed to have children infected with chickenpox. Others use social networking services to make contact with these strangers. The unknown person then mails the potentially infectious matter to the parent, who would then give it to their child in the hope that the child will become infected.
These practices are unlikely to reliably transmit the chickenpox virus because varicella zoster cannot survive for long on the surface of such items. The virus can, however, transmit other diseases, including hepatitis B, group A streptococcal infection, and staphylococcal infections — dangerous diseases to which the parents never intended to expose their children. Additionally, in the United States, deliberately sending infectious matter through the U.S. Postal Service is illegal.
While chickenpox parties are still held today, they are far less common than before the chickenpox vaccine was introduced.
In the United States, chickenpox parties were popularized before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995. Children were also sometimes intentionally exposed to other common childhood illnesses, such as mumps and measles. Before vaccines for these infections became available, parents regarded these diseases as almost inevitable.
During the 2009 swine flu pandemic in Canada, doctors noted an increase in what was termed flu parties or flu flings. These gatherings, as with the pox parties, were designed explicitly to allow a parent's children to contract the "swine flu" influenza virus. Researchers such as Dr. Michael Gardam noted that because the pandemic was caused by a flu subtype to which very few people were previously exposed, parents would be just as likely to contract the disease and further its spread. Although these events were heavily discussed in the media, very few were confirmed to have happened.
- Blatchford, Emily (March 7, 2016). "Chicken Pox 'Parties' Are Dangerous and Unnecessary, Experts Say". Archived from the original on June 25, 2020. Retrieved September 3, 2018 – via Huff Post.
Given the highly contagious nature of chicken pox, the thinking behind such events was, seeing as the child would probably contract it at some point anyway, why not catch it early and get it over with?
- "Pinkbook - Varicella - Epidemiology of Vaccine Preventable Diseases - CDC". www.cdc.gov. July 27, 2018. Archived from the original on February 7, 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
- "The Return of the Measles Party". The Guardian. July 26, 2001. Archived from the original on May 16, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
- "Pinkbook - Measles - Epidemiology of Vaccine Preventable Diseases - CDC". www.cdc.gov. July 27, 2018. Archived from the original on February 7, 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
Complications of measles are most common among children younger than 5 years of age and adults 20 years of age and older.
- "Vaccine Safety". Vaccine.gov. US National Vaccine Program Office. Archived from the original on March 13, 2019. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
- "Transmission". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Archived from the original on June 26, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
- McNeil Jr, Donald G. (May 6, 2009). "Debating the Wisdom of 'Swine Flu Parties'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 27, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
Chickenpox parties, at which children gather so they can all be infected by a child who has the pox, are often held by parents who distrust chickenpox vaccine or want their children to have the stronger immunity that surviving a full-blown infection affords and are willing to take the risk that their child will not get serious complications.
- Ghianni, Tim (November 12, 2011). "Swapping Chicken Pox-infected Lollipops Illegal". Reuters. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
A federal prosecutor is warning parents against trading chicken pox-laced lollipops by mail in what authorities describe as misguided attempts to expose their children to the virus to build immunity later in life.
- "Dangerous Goods Regulations" (PDF). www.iata.org. IATA. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 2, 2018. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
- "Infectious Substances Shipping Training". www.who.int. WHO. Archived from the original on March 14, 2020. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
- Torgovnick, K. (January 11, 2009). "Inside New York Chicken Pox Parties". Archived from the original on March 30, 2013. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
- Henry, Shannon (September 20, 2005). "A Pox on My Child: Cool!". The Washington Post. pp. HE01. Archived from the original on December 4, 2016. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
- Brown, E. (November 4, 2011). "'Pox Parties': Coming to a Mailbox Near You?". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 7, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
- "Pink Book: Varicella: Complications". US CDC. Archived from the original on February 7, 2015. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
- "History of Vaccine Safety". US CDC. Archived from the original on March 28, 2019. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
- "Surveillance for Adverse Events Following Immunization..." US CDC. Archived from the original on March 23, 2019. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
- Rubin, Rita (November 2011). "Chickenpox Lollipops? Some Moms May Be Sending in Mail". MSNBC. Archived from the original on December 6, 2013.
...noting that before the chickenpox vaccine became available, the disease killed 100 to 150 children every year, most of whom were previously healthy.
- Rawson, Helen; Crampin, Amelia; Noah, Norman (November 10, 2001). "Deaths from chickenpox in England and Wales 1995-7: analysis of routine mortality data". BMJ : British Medical Journal. 323 (7321): 1091–1093. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7321.1091. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 59681. PMID 11701571.
- DeNoon, Daniel J. "'Pox Parties' Pooh-Poohed". WebMD. Archived from the original on August 29, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
- Gorski, David (November 6, 2011). "Pox parties taken to the next (illegal) level | Science-Based Medicine". sciencebasedmedicine.org. Archived from the original on August 12, 2021. Retrieved July 30, 2021.
- Sanghav, Darshak (2001). A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician's Tour of the Body. Macmillan. pp. 184. ISBN 0805075119.
- Donohue, Paul (April 4, 2015). "Chickenpox Parties a Thing of the Past". Sun Journal. Archived from the original on August 27, 2021. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
- Nephin, Dan (October 19, 2001). "Chickenpox Parties Aim for Kids to Catch Disease, Avoid Vaccine".
- News staff, CTV (July 3, 2009). "Doctors Say 'Flu Parties' Not a Good Idea". CTV News. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- Lake, T. (June 2010). "The Golden Boy and the Invisible Army". Atlanta Magazine. Archived from the original on June 9, 2010. Retrieved June 12, 2012.