Chicken pox might be a rite of passage, but generally we try to protect our kids from having to suffer through the itchy blisters for as long as we can. But that’s most, not all parents. According to a new report out of Boulder, Colorado, parents are organizing “pox parties” through private Facebook groups to expose their healthy little ones to kids who are already infected with the virus instead of getting them vaccinated. But are they safe? One biologist is condemning the practice altogether, urging parents to opt for the vaccine instead of exposing their child to the infection — or face some pretty serious risks.
According to NBC 9 Denver, an anonymous source tipped the station off that private Facebook groups were organizing “pox parties.”
The thinking behind these “pox parties” is that some parents are against vaccinating their kids from getting the chicken pox virus. But of course, if your children don’t get chicken pox until they’re older, the complications from the virus can turn into a more serious infection such as shingles.
So now parents are deciding to expose their healthy kiddos to others who are infected, with the belief that once their children have gotten chicken pox, it won’t be as bad while they’re still young and then their kid will be immune for life. Parents will even come from far and wide to attend a pox party. In the case of this private Facebook group advertising an upcoming bash, eager parents were even coming from out of state.
In a series of screen grabs sent to WTHR 13, parents describe using the “tenting method” to spread the virus, which is when you allow a sick child to sit in an enclosed space for half an hour, ensuring that the space is contaminated with that child’s exhaled air. Then you place a healthy kid into the space with some toys to keep occupied and “then let the party begin!”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chicken pox can be spread through “breathing in the virus particles that come from chicken pox blisters, and possibly through tiny droplets from infected people that get into the air after they breathe or talk.” So it is possible for the tenting method to effectively spread the infection.
The person who shared the post even wrote that there would be “bonus for sharing snacks out of the same bowl.” And explained the “Baggie Back-up Method,” where an infected child breathes into well-sealed sandwich bag and then a healthy child breathes in the contaminated air.
And of course, what would a party be without bringing the hostess a gift? “Bring the host mom something by way of thx,” the post said. “A casserole or tp or something!”
Another mom who had not one, but TWO infected kids at home and a husband with a nasty case of shingles even shared the best times to come by and visit.
The mom includes the best times to visit her house filled with a “a pretty contagious wild virus.” She said that she’s been “swamped with requests” and vows that if her visiting hours don’t work with another parent’s schedule, “please let me know and I’ll do my best to get you in.”
Although a pox party might seem like an easy way to expose your child to the virus & grant them immunity, the science just doesn’t back up that idea.
Lindsay Diamond, founder and codirector of Community Immunity, a nonprofit organization “with the goal of improving community health by decreasing vaccine-preventable diseases through education and advocacy,” explained that the idea of forcing “natural immunity” is somewhat misguided.
“There’s this emphasis on natural immunity being better than vaccine-delivered immunity,” she explained. “So, the idea [is] that you would get your child chicken pox, and that would give them this sort of life-long immunity.”
“But you can achieve the same thing, or close to, with the vaccine without serious risks.”
Diamond explained that although there are some risks associated with the chicken pox vaccine, such as an allergic reaction, they are for the most part extremely rare. The chicken pox virus, she argued, actually leaves kids more susceptible to complications.
The CDC noted that chicken pox can increase the risk for pneumonia, infection, or inflammation of the brain, sepsis, dehydration, and even “bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children including Group A streptococcal infections.”
And Diamond said that though parents might believe they are acting in the best interest of their kids, they are actually putting their community at risk.
“This is all focused on your child, but in reality this is a community issue,” Diamond said. “And so these people then go out into their world. They go to the library, they go to the grocery store, they go to schools where there’s likely to be an immunocompromised person. And then you are risking the health of not only your own child, but the public health.”
And even the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spoke out about the issue, urging parents to get their kids vaccinated ASAP.
The public health organization even spoke directly to the “pox party” phenomena.
“It’s no party,” it warns.