Pox party

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.[1][2] For example, measles[3] is more dangerous to adults than to children over five years old.[1][4][5] 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,[6] although flu parties saw a resurgence in the early 2010s.[7]

Another, more modern, method of intentional contagion involves shipping infectious material. In many parts of the world, shipping infectious items is illegal[8] or tightly regulated.[9][10]

Effectiveness and risk[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12][13] These serious complications (e.g., brain damage or death) are vastly more likely than vaccine adverse events.[14][15] Before the chickenpox vaccine became available, 100 to 150 children in the U.S. died from chickenpox annually.[13][16] 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.[17] The chickenpox vaccine is now recommended by health officials, citing vastly superior safety when compared with infection.[8][18]

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.[12] 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.[8][12]

These practices are unlikely to reliably transmit the chickenpox virus because varicella zoster cannot survive for long on the surface of such items.[19] 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.[12] Additionally, in the United States, deliberately sending infectious matter through the U.S. Postal Service is illegal.[8][12]

While chickenpox parties are still held today, they are far less common than before the chickenpox vaccine was introduced.[citation needed]


In the United States, chickenpox parties were popularized before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995.[12][20][21] Children were also sometimes intentionally exposed to other common childhood illnesses, such as mumps and measles.[22] Before vaccines for these infections became available, parents regarded these diseases as almost inevitable.[22]

Flu parties[edit]

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.[23] 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.[23] Although these events were heavily discussed in the media, very few were confirmed to have happened.[24]

COVID-19 party[edit]

A COVID-19 party (also called coronavirus party, corona party, and lockdown party) is a gathering held with the intention of catching or spreading COVID-19. It is a type of pox party where the intentional spread of disease is chosen to build up post-infection immunity.[25][26] Parties have been reported to occur during the omicron wave, due to the belief that omicron causes only mild infection. Experts caution that infection with COVID runs the risk of hospitalization, and increasingly common side effects such as MIS-C and long COVID.[26][25]

A number of news reports in the United States have suggested that parties have occurred with this intention early in the pandemic. However, such reports appear to involve sensational and unsubstantiated media coverage[27] or misleading headlines which misrepresent the content of an article.[28] Such stories have been compared to[29] urban legends.[30]

In the Netherlands,[31][32][33][34] the term "coronavirus party" and other similar terms may refer to a party that is organized during the COVID-19 pandemic but without any intention of spreading the virus.[35] As the party occurs during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may involve breaking existing regulations and restrictions to prevent COVID-19 infections (i.e., on people gatherings).


Street party in Copenhagen, Denmark, with police (middle) telling people to leave due to restrictions[36]

In March 2020 Andy Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, reported that young people were taking part in parties and later testing positive for COVID-19. "The partygoers intentionally got together 'thinking they were invincible' and purposely defying state guidance to practice social distancing," he said. A CNN headline on 25 March 2020 stated, "A group of young adults held a coronavirus party in Kentucky to defy orders to socially distance. Now one of them has coronavirus."[37] On the same day NPR published the headline "Kentucky Has 39 New Cases; 1 Person Attended A 'Coronavirus Party'".[38] Both headlines misrepresented the content of the article and the quotes they used from Beshear who did not mention intentional parties for catching COVID-19, but rather that young people were attending parties and becoming sick with COVID-19.[28]

On 6 May, The Seattle Times reported that Meghan DeBold, director of the Department of Community Health in Walla Walla, Washington, said that contact tracing had revealed people wanting to get sick with COVID-19 and get it over with had attended COVID parties. DeBold is quoted as saying "We ask about contacts, and there are 25 people because: 'We were at a COVID party'".[39] An opinion piece for The New York Times by epidemiologist Greta Bauer on 8 April 2020 said she had heard "rumblings about people ... hosting a version of 'chickenpox parties'... to catch the virus".[40] Rolling Stone states that Bauer did not cite "direct evidence of the existence of these parties."[41] The New York Times reported on 6 May 2020 that stories such as the Walla Walla Covid Party "may have been more innocent gatherings" and county health officials retracted their statements.[42]

On 23 June, Carsyn Leigh Davis was said to have died from COVID-19 at the age of 17 after her mother took her to a COVID party at her church, despite Carsyn having a history of health issues, including cancer. However, according to the coroner's report, there is no mention of a COVID party but rather a church function with 100 children where she did not wear a mask and where social distancing protocols were not followed. According to David Gorski, writing for Science-Based Medicine, the church party was called a "Release Party" and there is no evidence that the party was held so that people could intentionally catch COVID-19.[30]


Some news agencies consider COVID-19 parties to be a myth. Rolling Stone called "shaming people on the internet for not properly socially distancing" the favorite new American pastime. They state that these headlines are meant to be virally shared, and they considered the reality to be that young people had simply attended parties where they caught COVID-19, rather than deliberately attending them to contract COVID-19. Rolling Stone attributed the popularity of the stories to "generational animosity" and said that the coronavirus party stories "gives people cooped up in their homes a reason to pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for their own sacrifices". The Seattle Times article from Walla Walla backtracked the day after publishing their COVID-19 party story by stating they may not have been accurate.[41]

Wired criticized reports on CNN and others[43] of supposed college students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama throwing parties with infected guests then betting on the contagion that ensues. "They put money in a pot and they try to get Covid," said City Council member Sonya McKinstry, who was the story's lone source.[27][30] "Whoever gets Covid-19 first gets the pot. It makes no sense." Wired says that these stories spread like a game of telephone with "loose talk from public officials and disgracefully sloppy journalism". "It is, of course, technically impossible to rule out the existence of Covid-19 parties. Maybe somewhere in this vast and complex nation, some foolish people are getting infected on purpose. It is also possible that the miasma of media coverage will coalesce into a vector of its own, inspiring Covid parties that otherwise would not have happened. But so far there's no hard evidence that even a single one has taken place—just a recurring cycle of breathless, unsubstantiated media coverage."[27]

Investigator Benjamin Radford researched the claims from the media and stated that there was nothing new to these stories, and that the folklore world has seen stories of people believing that being inoculated against smallpox may turn people into cows. These stories cycle through social media, and include "poisoned Halloween candy, suicide-inducing online games, Satanists, caravans of diseased migrants, evil clowns, and many others." Other childhood diseases such as chickenpox and measles in years before vaccines to prevent these illnesses, some parents would hold 'pox parties' which Radford claims are still "often promoted by anti-vaccination groups". "Assuming you have a willing and potentially infectious patient (who's not bedridden or in a hospital)" holding a COVID-19 party would be problematic for many reasons, including not knowing if someone has COVID-19 or the flu as well as not knowing a person's viral load, according to Radford. He described the entire premise of the parties as "dubious".[28]

All stories reported in the media had "all the typical ingredients of unfounded moral panic rumors", according to Radford. This includes teachers, police, school districts, governors "who publicize the information out of an abundance of caution. Journalists eagerly run with a sensational story, and there's little if any sober or skeptical follow-up".[28] On 10 July 2020, a WOAI-TV station from San Antonio, Texas ran a story interviewing the Chief Medical Officer of Methodist Healthcare, Dr. Jane Appleby, who according to WOAI said she had heard from someone that a patient told their nurse right before dying that they had attended a COVID party to see if the virus was real or not, and now they regretted attending the party. Radford considers the stories "classic folklore (a friend-of-a-friend or FOAF) tale presented in news media as fact", noting that they were often anonymous third-hand story with no verifiable names or other details. He described the "deathbed conversation" ending to the story as being a "classic legend trope".[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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?
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ "The Return of the Measles Party". The Guardian. July 26, 2001. Archived from the original on May 16, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ "Vaccine Safety". Vaccine.gov. US National Vaccine Program Office. Archived from the original on March 13, 2019. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  6. ^ "Transmission". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Archived from the original on June 26, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c d 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.
  9. ^ "Dangerous Goods Regulations" (PDF). www.iata.org. IATA. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 2, 2018. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  10. ^ "Infectious Substances Shipping Training". www.who.int. WHO. Archived from the original on March 14, 2020. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  13. ^ a b "Pink Book: Varicella: Complications". US CDC. Archived from the original on February 7, 2015. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  14. ^ "History of Vaccine Safety". US CDC. Archived from the original on March 28, 2019. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  15. ^ "Surveillance for Adverse Events Following Immunization..." US CDC. Archived from the original on March 23, 2019. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  16. ^ Freeman, David W. (November 7, 2011). "Mailing 'chickenpox lollipops' called illegal, risky". CBS News.
  17. ^ Rawson, H.; Crampin, A.; Noah, N. (November 10, 2001). "Deaths from chickenpox in England and Wales 1995-7: analysis of routine mortality data". BMJ. 323 (7321): 1091–1093. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7321.1091. PMC 59681. PMID 11701571.
  18. ^ DeNoon, Daniel J. "'Pox Parties' Pooh-Poohed". WebMD. Archived from the original on August 29, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  19. ^ Gorski, David (November 6, 2011). "Pox parties taken to the next (illegal) level". Science-Based Medicine.[self-published source?]
  20. ^ Sanghav, Darshak (2001). A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician's Tour of the Body. Macmillan. pp. 184. ISBN 0805075119.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ a b Nephin, Dan (October 19, 2001). "Chickenpox Parties Aim for Kids to Catch Disease, Avoid Vaccine".
  23. ^ a b 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ a b "Contemplating a COVID party for your kids? It's still a bad idea". Los Angeles Times. January 7, 2022.
  26. ^ a b "'COVID chasers' trying to catch Omicron on purpose are 'playing Russian roulette', experts say". ABC News. January 15, 2022 – via www.abc.net.au.
  27. ^ a b c Edelman, Gilad (July 2, 2020). "'Covid Parties' Are Not a Thing: No, Alabama frat boys aren't doing snot shots and betting on who can get sick first. Why does the media keep suggesting otherwise?". Wired. Archived from the original on July 8, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  28. ^ a b c d Radford, Benjamin (July 7, 2020). "The Truth About Covid Parties". A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper. Center For Inquiry. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  29. ^ a b Radford, Benjamin (July 11, 2020). "Texas Hospital Finds 'Covid Party' – Or Legend". A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper. Center for Inquiry. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  30. ^ a b c Gorski, David (July 13, 2020). "COVID-19 parties: Urban legend or real thing?". Science-Based Medicine.[self-published source?]
  31. ^ "Coronafeestjes gevolg van gebrek aan kennis over virus" [Corona parties result of a lack of knowledge of the virus]. Hart van Nederland (in Dutch). Talpa TV. March 29, 2020. Retrieved August 19, 2020. Jongeren houden nog steeds regelmatig coronafeestjes, ondanks het verbod op groepsvorming en alle andere voorschriften om besmettingen met corona te voorkomen. Psycholoog Bram Bakker denkt niet dat de jongeren moedwillig een risico willen zijn voor bijvoorbeeld opa of oma. "Het is vooral een gebrek aan kennis."
  32. ^ "Politie grijpt in bij coronafeestje in kleedkamer sportpark Middelburg" [Police intervenes in corona party in changing room of sport facility in Middelburg]. omroepzeeland.nl (in Dutch). Omroep Zeeland. April 5, 2020. Retrieved August 19, 2020. De politie heeft afgelopen nacht een coronafeestje in Middelburg beëindigd. In een kleedkamer van sportpark de Veerse Poort in Middelburg werd door elf jongens tussen de 17 en 20 jaar oud muziek gedraaid en gezongen over quarantaine.
  33. ^ "Honderd man met bbq betrapt in Arnhem: burgemeester boos op 'groep idioten'" [A hundred people caught with a barbecue in Arnhem: mayor angry with 'bunch of idiots']. RTL Nieuws (in Dutch). RTL Group. April 5, 2020. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  34. ^ svg (April 19, 2020). "Politie legt coronafeestje stil waarop zelfs vuurwerk werd afgestoken: "Dit is echt foert zeggen tegen de regels"" [Police ends corona party at which even fireworks were set off: "This is just a big buzz off! to the regulations"]. Het Nieuwsblad (in Dutch). Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  35. ^ Boon, door Ton den (March 14, 2020). "Coronawoordenboek".
  36. ^ "Politiet lukker piratfest og to barer i København efter brud på coronaregler - TV 2". nyheder.tv2.dk (in Danish). August 30, 2020. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  37. ^ Waldrop, Theresa; Gallman, Stephanie (March 25, 2020). "A group of young adults held a coronavirus party in Kentucky to defy orders to socially distance. Now one of them has coronavirus". cnn.com. CNN. Archived from the original on July 2, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  38. ^ Scott, Neuman (March 25, 2020). "Kentucky Has 39 New Cases; 1 Person Attended A 'Coronavirus Party'". npr.org. NPR. Archived from the original on May 29, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  39. ^ "'We were at a COVID party': Walla Walla County claims to trace new cases to gatherings of people hoping to get coronavirus". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. May 6, 2020. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  40. ^ Bauer, Greta (April 8, 2020). "Please, Don't Intentionally Infect Yourself. Signed, an Epidemiologist. Here are seven reasons your 'coronavirus party' is a bad idea". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  41. ^ a b Dickson, E. J. (May 7, 2020). "Are People Really Having 'Coronavirus Parties'?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  42. ^ Baker, Mike (May 6, 2020). "'Covid-19 Parties' Probably Didn't Involve Intentional Spread". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 13, 2020. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  43. ^ Karimi, Faith; Lynch, Jamiel (July 2, 2020). "Young people are throwing coronavirus parties with a payout when one gets infected, official says". CNN. Retrieved August 4, 2021.

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