A pox party (also flu party etc.) is a social activity where children are deliberately exposed to an infectious disease. Such parties were done before vaccines were available to, "get it over with," or because it was believed childhood disease would be less severe than disease as an adult. For example, measles is more dangerous to adults than to children over five years old. Deliberately exposing people to diseases is discouraged by public health officials in favor of vaccination. Flu parties are also sometimes done. There exist variations of pox parties that involve shipping infectious material. In many parts of the world shipping infectious items is illegal or tightly regulated.
Effectiveness and risk
Parents who expose their children to Varicella zoster virus in this manner may believe that a case of chickenpox is safer and more effective than receiving a vaccination. Similar ideas have been applied to other diseases such as measles. However, pediatricians have warned against holding pox parties, citing dangers arising from possible complications associated with chicken pox, such as encephalitis, chickenpox-associated pneumonia, and invasive group A strep. These serious complications (i.e. they can cause 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 isn't routinely vaccinated against and around 25 people die a year from the disease, with 80% of victims being adults. The chickenpox vaccine is recommended by health officials as safer than infection by any means.
Some parents have attempted to collect infected material, such as saliva, licked lollipops, or other infected items from people who claim to have children infected with chickenpox. The parents use social networking services to make contact with these strangers. The unknown person then mails the potentially infectious matter to the requester, who gives it or feeds it to their child in the hope that the child will become ill.
Experts say it is unlikely that these methods will transmit the chickenpox virus effectively or reliably, because the varicella virus cannot survive for very long on the surface of such items. However, it may be able to 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.
In the United States, chickenpox parties were popular 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 became available, parents regarded these diseases as almost inevitable.
During the 2009 swine flu pandemic in Canada, doctors noted an increase in what were 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 that most people have had no exposure to, the 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" – 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.
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- "Pinkbook - Measles - Epidemiology of Vaccine Preventable Diseases - CDC". www.cdc.gov. July 27, 2018.
Complications of measles are most common among children younger than 5 years of age and adults 20 years of age and older.
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- McNeil Jr, Donald G. (May 6, 2009). "Debating the Wisdom of 'Swine Flu Parties'". The New York Times. 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. 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. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
- "Infectious Substances Shipping Training". www.who.int. WHO. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
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- 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.
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- Donohue, Paul (April 4, 2015). "Chickenpox Parties a Thing of the Past". Sun Journal. 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. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
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