What to Do if You Get Invited to a Chickenpox Party

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Afew weeks ago, I stumbled across the Facebook group “Chicken Pox Parties—New York Metro Area.” It has 143 members, all of whom, I’m guessing, are parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their kids against chickenpox and instead hope to build their kids’ immunity the old-fashioned way, by directly exposing them to the germs of a pox-infected child. They are not alone: Facebook has 14 other chickenpox party groups organized by geographical region, and if you can’t get to one in person, you can always ask to be sent a lollipop with an infected child’s spit on it.

Perhaps these parents go this route because they’re distrustful of the vaccine or they think that inoculating against chickenpox is dumb. For those of us who endured chickenpox as kids and emerged relatively unscathed, the varicella vaccine, as it’s called, does at first seem kind of dumb—another unnecessary medical intervention being thrust upon us and another box to check off on the never-ending paperwork that is raising a child. So should we say no to our pediatricians and bring a pox on all our houses instead?

After evaluating the medical evidence, my answer is an emphatic no. The shot is by far the better way to go. That’s because although we might recall chickenpox as a small but annoying blip on our childhood radar it can be dangerous. True, before the vaccine was licensed in 1995, only about 100 to 150 American kids died of chickenpox every year, and most of these children had underlying immune system issues. But every year, chickenpox landed about 11,000 kids in the hospital. It’s not that they couldn’t handle all the itching; one study from Europe (where many countries do not vaccinate against chickenpox) has found that one-fifth of all otherwise healthy kids who are hospitalized for chickenpox suffer neurological problems such as strokes, meningitis, convulsions, and encephalitis. Chickenpox can also cause septic shockpneumonianecrotizing fasciitis (that’s flesh-eating bacteria), and other bacterial infections.

Written By: Melinda Wenner Moyer
continue to source article at slate.com

34 COMMENTS

  1. I remember having chicken pox. I had to have been about 2. It is one of my earliest memories. My mom put me in the kitchen sink and bathed me with baking soda which gave some relief. I remember finding it extremely unpleasant. This is not a kind thing to put a kid through.

  2. I had chicken pox at age 10. I was fortunate not to get many on my face. I know several people who have obvious facial scars, some are in awkward locations. From what I understand, Shingles is an incredibly painful disease. I don’t think these parents realize that intentionally exposing their child puts them at risk later in life. People should get the vaccine.

  3. What’s next on the list of festivities? A smallpox party, perhaps?( Good thing that’s been eradicated)
    A pox on the people ( Jenny McCarthy etc) who are undoing all the good that has been achieved because of vaccines.

  4. Christ, don’t just believe everything you read, commentors.

    100-150 kids die who have UNDERLYING IMMUNE SYSTEM ISSUES. Chickenpox is one of the least harmful virus’, so these kids have a lot more problems lying ahead in their life than a whimsical disease if it is getting the better of them. They need help with their immune system, and they sure do not need any vaccines. They will suffer quite a lot in the small amount of virus and other materials injected into them from the vaccine, and there is evidence of breathing rate/heart rate problems eliminating the virus at a young age. THIS causes the neurological defects and greatly increases Cott Death/SIDS.

    • In reply to #4 by SGde3a:

      Christ, don’t just believe everything you read, commentors.

      100-150 kids die who have UNDERLYING IMMUNE SYSTEM ISSUES. Chickenpox is one of the least harmful virus’, so these kids have a lot more problems lying ahead in their life than a whimsical disease if it is getting the better of them. They n…

      My kids both had chicken pox in the pre-vaccine days and I wouldn’t call it mild at all! They were extremely uncomfortable and have several scars on their faces as a reminder. Once you’ve had chicken pox, there is always the possibility of shingles at a later date! What a comparison! Injection vs two weeks of pain, scars and possibility of shingles later! A no- brainer!

    • In reply to #4 by SGde3a:

      Christ, don’t just believe everything you read, commentors.

      100-150 kids die who have UNDERLYING IMMUNE SYSTEM ISSUES. Chickenpox is one of the least harmful virus’, so these kids have a lot more problems lying ahead in their life than a whimsical disease if it is getting the better of them. They need help with their immune system, and they sure do not need any vaccines. They will suffer quite a lot in the small amount of virus and other materials injected into them from the vaccine, and there is evidence of breathing rate/heart rate problems eliminating the virus at a young age. THIS causes the neurological defects and greatly increases Cott Death/SIDS.

      Ummm… by and large we tend to be a skeptical lot. So let’s take a look at the chicken pox virus’ long term effects.

      Chicken pox is not a particularly dangerous childhood illness however anyone who is infected with the virus poses the risk of getting shingles later in life. Shingles while not fatal is very uncomfortable, lasts several weeks, and can occur any time the immune system is depressed (stressed out, age, etc). If someone has had chicken pox there’s a 50% chance they’ll get shingles at least once in their life. Now, 1 in 5 cases of shingles will have lingering pain where the rash used to be for several weeks to a month after the rash clears up (2 weeks to month). There is a vaccine for shingles in adults which will halve your changes of having an out break which is projected to save 80-100 million USD annually.

      Now to the chicken pox vaccine. I’m not actually certain what point you were trying to make. The chicken pox vaccine is a live vaccine meaning it consists of a weaker version of the chicken pox virus. This means that it is possible for one to develop shingles from the vaccine as well, however as the virus is much weaker the chances of that occurring are much lower compared to the wild strain of the virus. There is however no evidence that the vaccine causes breathing difficulties or heart rate problems. The only common side effects are localized pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site (1/5), a fever (7/100), and a chicken pox like rash (3/100).

      So, after not believing everything I read I have come to the conclusion you’re full of it.

    • In reply to #4 by SGde3a:

      Christ, don’t just believe everything you read, commentors.

      “…only about 100 to 150 American kids died of chickenpox every year, and most of these children had underlying immune system issues.”

      Two little words you sort of missed in your little rant.

      Steve

    • In reply to #4 by SGde3a:

      Christ, don’t just believe everything you read, commentors.

      Do I understand you that for some people vaccines are more harmful that actually getting chicken pox? That seems implausible to me. I would think that if the vaccine were a problem, the disease would be really bad.

      Is there any way of recognising people who will have problems with a vaccine?

      Certainly some people have trouble with vaccines. I had some very strong reaction to something as a baby in 1948, then to smallpox circa 1960.

      If nobody gets vaccines, then everyone gets the disease. Not good.
      If a very small subset avoid vaccines, then nobody gets the disease. The key is keeping that subset as small as possible.

    • In reply to #4 by SGde3a:

      Christ, don’t just believe everything you read, commentors.

      100-150 kids die who have UNDERLYING IMMUNE SYSTEM ISSUES. Chickenpox is one of the least harmful virus’, so these kids have a lot more problems lying ahead in their life than a whimsical disease if it is getting the better of them. They need help with their immune system, and they sure do not need any vaccines. They will suffer quite a lot in the small amount of virus and other materials injected into them from the vaccine, and there is evidence of breathing rate/heart rate problems eliminating the virus at a young age. THIS causes the neurological defects and greatly increases Cott Death/SIDS.

      I’ve got UNDERLYING IMMUNE SYSTEM ISSUES genius and so might your child who’s life you would be gambling with. As whimsical as 100-150 kids dying is to you it wouldn’t if it was yours. It’s true there are many hazards but the goods news is this doesn’t need to be one of them. Like my car insurance I don’t really need it but…

  5. Speaking as someone who contacted chickenpox as an adult, this was not very pleasant but luckily for me in no way as serious as for a number of people who contract it in adulthood. I expect there will be some parents who will insist that this is what they are trying to spare their children from, but of course there will be a significant number of vaccine deniers who think that this is not a serious illness and it will be safe to get out of the way in childhood.

  6. Were I a pox virus I’d be thinking, ooooh, all these delightfully cosy, juicy little hosts together in one warm room innocently and selflessly offering themselves as vectors to millions more.

    How proud their parents’ must be of them!

  7. It’s about time Ben Goldacre wrote a book on the religious style fallacy of alternative medicine?
    I thought “Bad Science” was an outstanding book of fact(I’ve read and re-read it 3 times!
    The anti- vaccination movement is about as egregious as a campaign for Sharia law!

  8. I probably got chicken pox vaccine as a small child – not sure if I ever got chicken pox itself – but I developed a case of shingles in my 40′s. Very nasty. I thought I would die from the pain across the back of my neck & shoulders. The doctor gave me something that essentially put me to sleep for a week, and by then it had died off. You do NOT want to get this. Herpes zoster, it is called. There used to be a rumour that if you got it around the waist, and the rash made a complete circle, you would die. The Latin for a belt is cingulum, probably the root of shingles.

  9. Even if it made more sense to expose your kids to the virus rather than get them vaccinated, what about the number of other diseases you could be exposing your child to, especially if you’re one of those taking the “spit on a lollipop” route. Why not let your kids drink out of the toilet bowl while you’re at it?

  10. SGde3a – They need help with their immune system, and they sure do not need any vaccines. They will suffer quite a lot in the small amount of virus and other materials injected into them from the vaccine, and there is evidence of breathing rate/heart rate problems eliminating the virus at a young age. THIS causes the neurological defects and greatly increases Cott Death/SIDS.

    The expert advice is here: – recommending all but a small minority should be vaccinated :-

    Chickenpox vaccine – http://m.medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007065.htm

    WHO SHOULD GET THIS VACCINE

    VAR is one of the vaccines recommended for children. All states require proof that a child has received the vaccine before starting daycare, preschool, or kindergarten.

    VAR is given to children as a series of two doses (shots). One dose is given at each of the following ages:

    • 12 to 15 months old
    • 4 to 6 years old

    WHO SHOULD NOT GET THIS VACCINE

    • Persons who received a dose of VAR and developed an allergy from it.
    • Pregnant women, including the 1 month before pregnancy.
    • Certain HIV-infected persons.
    • Persons whose immune systems are weakened by disease or medicines (such as after organ transplant).
    • Persons who are ill with something more severe than a cold or have a fever should reschedule their vaccination until after they are recovered.

    Chickenpox – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001592.htm
    >

    Possible Complications [From the disease its self]

    Rarely, serious bacteria infections such as encephalitis have occurred. Other complications may include:

    • Reye’s syndrome
    • Myocarditis
    • Pneumonia
    • Transient arthritis

    Cerebellar ataxia may appear during the recovery phase or later. This involves a very unsteady walk.

    Women who get chickenpox during pregnancy can pass the infection to the developing baby. Newborns are at risk for severe infection.

  11. Jim Lad : “Did yee ever asuffer from that spotty pox, captain sir?”

    Captain Long John Silver : “Aarrgh oy did indeed Jimbo – pirating down off New Orleans.” “Thunk itwer a nasty bout o’ unboiled, Mardis Gras chicken legs.”

    Jim Lad : “No it wern’t, Boson’s mate says yee katched it from red ‘aired Madonna – drunk as a skunk above the “Bayou Rum ‘ouse !”

    Captain Long John Silver : “Don’t yee be so cheeky Laddee an clambir atop ‘crow’s nest’ before eye feedz yee to tha sharks.”

  12. I am as strident as anyone round here about anti-vax nutjobs, and the importance of everyone having all their shots on time.

    But the chickenpox vaccine is a bit different. In the UK, nobody gets it at all. I’m sure the same is true in other countries. The balance of advantage is considered too trivial. A few people might get nasty side effects (as with any vaccine); pretty well everyone gets chickenpox, feels rough for a few days, they they are over it. And immune.

    UK NHS advice.

    Both my kids have had the disease with no serious effects. At no point did I say “I wish there was a vaccine for this”. It’s a long way short of being a serious illness.

    • In reply to #25 by Stevehill:

      It’s a long way short of being a serious illness…

      … unless you are one of the ones at higher risk (see Alan4discussion’s post above^^). It has the potential to be a real problem. I was miserable for a few days, many years ago (mid ’50s). My daughter got the disease as a child and has a single pock scar on her forehead. Now that I remember it, she came down with symptoms a day or so after her “play group” got together. Several of the other kids got sick, and my wife and child were ostracized from the group even though there were no symptoms and we never figured out where she was exposed. This was before the vaccine was available. How times change.

      Steve

      • In reply to #26 by Agrajag:

        … unless you are one of the ones at higher risk (see Alan4discussion’s post above^^). I

        Well yes, and in the UK (see the advice I linked to) we do vaccinate higher risk people. But not the rest.

        So “official advice” is at best variable. This is not an expensive vaccine, and the NHS is usually pretty thoughtful about issues like this. I have no reason to believe the UK has any long-term health problems which are out of line with anywhere else as a result of not having a population-wide vaccination policy on this one.

        And I’m pro-vaccines enough to have signed up both of my kids as babies for clinical trials (one stage 2, one stage 3) of an untested meningitis B vaccine. The trials were successful and this year the vaccine was approved for use throughout the EU.

    • In reply to #25 by Stevehill:

      …But the chickenpox vaccine is a bit different. In the UK, nobody gets it at all. I’m sure the same is true in other countries. The balance of advantage is considered too trivial…

      Not quite to simple here unfortunately. One of the issues with immunising all young children is that outbreak cases get pushed into older age groups (adolescents, adults and elderly) where complication rates are higher. Also the UK Health Protection Agency published this back in 2008. In the UK population they felt that the medium-term (15-20yrs) increase in shingles in the elderly (due to the lack of immunity-boosting re-exposure to Varicella from their own children in mid-adulthood) offset the cost/benefit. Time will tell if this turns out to be short-sighted – will be interesting to know if there is a drop in elderly shingles in the US during the coming decade once the pool of wild virus is reduced and exposure over a lifetime is lessened.

      We do however routinely immunise those in contact with vulnerable individuals e.g. family of the immunosuppressed and all non-immune healthcare staff.

  13. Glad to know that now there’s an easier way to update your immune system!
    I remember being quite sick for nearly a week over this.
    It wasn’t terrible but I would have gladly gone with the shot instead of losing that one week.lol.
    Of course medicine is never to be forced so I’m against forcing this on anyone.
    But then again, parents would be forcing a child to go through something anyway with these chickenpox parties…
    The vaccine seems to be the less forceful.

    • In reply to #30 by finchfinder:

      No, Stevehill No.25, not immune, your children may well get shingles at some point in life, so think a bit deeper.

      It’s not me doing the thinking here. It’s my government!

      I know the WHO recommends the vaccine everywhere, but possibly it is more necessary in countries without a first-world system of universal healthcare to deal with any complications?

      I don’t know; I am not a medic. I do know the NHS weighs these things quite carefully.

      It has not really crossed my mind to get my own kids vaccinated (I could have it done privately). Both have had chickenpox and are fine.

  14. What fun for the whole family! Hey kids! Let’s deliberately infect you with a virus! It’s all cookies, cake, and lollipops now, but in a few days you’ll have a fever and be covered with insanely itchy blisters that may scar you for life! Whadda ya say, kids? Yay! Now get on over there and swap some spit and snot with that miserable-looking brat over there.

    The parents who came up with this scheme could have written a chapter for Michael and Debi Pearl’s child-abuse how-to manual, “How To Train Up A Child”. It could be right next to the bit about beating the willpower out of your child with plumbing pipe.

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