Chickenpox Parties: Safe or Risky?

by Donne Davis on September 21, 2011

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Chickenpox parties! Now there’s a new one. Well, actually they’re not new—only to me.

My grandma friend Sally told me her two grandsons recently attended a chickenpox party. These parties are organized by parents who want their children to catch the virus naturally rather than getting vaccinated. Sally’s grandsons have attended three parties so far and still have not caught the chickenpox.

That may be because chickenpox are most contagious 1 to 2 days before any spots actually come out.

The parties are no different than a typical play date except for one big difference: the parents with the contagious kids provide lollipops that their kids have sucked on to share with the kids whose moms want them to catch the virus.

Advocates of these parties believe there is greater risk from getting vaccinated than having chickenpox which causes a red rash, blisters, fever and headache.

The chickenpox vaccine, which was introduced in 1995, is often given to children twice. The first vaccine is given around 15 months and then a booster shot between the ages 3 and 4. Many parents are skeptical of its effectiveness and worry that if the vaccine doesn’t work their child will get chickenpox as an adult, when the symptoms are much worse.

Researchers now say the chickenpox vaccine has slashed the occurrence of the disease in children by 90 percent but still worry that parents who want their children to get chickenpox naturally are preventing the virus from disappearing all together.

Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician specializing in infectious disease at the department of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that many parents who are against vaccinating their children argue that getting the virus naturally is more beneficial to the child’s overall health.

“The thinking many parents have is that the natural infection is more likely to induce higher levels of antibodies and longer-lasting immunity than vaccines,” Offit said. “That’s generally true but the problem is if you make that choice you are also taking the risk of a natural infection, which can mean hospitalization and sometimes death.”

“You don’t know who goes to a chickenpox party and might have some sort of immunity or may have a complication from it or who might spread it to someone else who, because of the medication they’re on or because they’re pregnant, are very susceptible to the disease,” Offit says. “Not vaccinating kids just spreads all the risks that are the reason the vaccine was created in the first place.”

Offit believes that if the chickenpox vaccine becomes as widely used as the measles vaccine was back in 1963, chickenpox would go the way of the measles: away.

Here’s a short clip from the CBS Early Show with Dr. Alanna Levine explaining chickenpox parties vs. the vaccine.

 

 

{ 1 comment }

Susan Adcox September 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm

My husband had a horrible case of chicken pox as a boy. The doctors said that if he had been born before the age of modern medicine, he would have died. I don’t recommend anyone exposing their child to chicken pox when there is a vaccine available.

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