A Party To Avoid

By Medical Discovery News

April 28, 2012

A Party to Avoid

While many parents are taking their children to birthday parties on the weekends, some will be hauling their children to “pox parties.” Believe it or not, that’s short for chicken pox. Anyone can find these parties on Facebook, sponsored by groups like “Chicken pox party line” or “Find a pox party.” Their goal is to bring together parents interested in exposing their children to the wild virus, Varicella zoster, rather than inoculate them with the chicken pox vaccine.

While the vast majority of parents may find this outrageous, a subset of parents believe natural infection with the virus leads to more vigorous immunity than the protection their children would get from the vaccine. But underlying this is a continued distrust of vaccines among some parents in America.

Public health experts say these parents are not only misguided, they’re downplaying serious risks that come with a full-blown infection. Chicken pox causes hundreds of blisters that, when scratched, can lead to life-threatening bacterial infections. Additionally, the virus can cause encephalitis, an infection of the lining of the brain. Children who get chicken pox also face the risk of developing shingles as adults, when the dormant virus comes back as a highly painful nerve disorder.

Incredibly, the interest for natural infection has spurred postings on Facebook from people selling $50 lollipops that have been licked by children with chicken pox. Some offer infected clothing or towels by overnight delivery, with no shortage of interest from responding parents.

Law enforcement has cracked down on the offers, since shipment of infectious substances across state lines is a federal offense. Public health experts question whether the chicken pox virus can survive shipment, but warn that other serious bacterial diseases might prevail, such as staph or strep throat.

Parents skeptical of vaccines need to weigh the risks of infection, which are far more serious against the few, mild side effects of a vaccine. The chicken pox vaccine, introduced in 1995, significantly lowers the risk of infection. Those who are vaccinated and do become infected have a much milder form of the illness and are less contagious. These children also face a lower risk of developing shingles later in life.

The Centers for Disease Control indicates severe reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare and only those with certain health risks are advised not to get the vaccine. It’s still always a good idea to consult a pediatrician first.

Before the chicken pox vaccine was introduced, four million people were infected every year, including over 10,000 who were hospitalized. Of those, 150 died. However, the vaccine has cut the chicken pox death rate by 97 percent.

Scientists are monitoring whether wiping out chicken pox will increase the risk of shingles in adults who had the virus when they were younger. Evidence suggests periodic exposure to the virus from sick children acts as a natural immunity booster for adults who had the illness. But health experts point out that a shingles vaccine can head off that risk.

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