The practice of purposely infecting kids with the chickenpox virus — in an effort to "get it over with" — worries doctors for many reasons.

By Kristen Finello
Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock

You're invited ... to a chickenpox party. Huh? Years ago, it wasn't uncommon for parents to bring their kids over to a friend's or neighbor's house when a child turned up with the classic itchy, red, blistery rash of chickenpox, a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus.

Since the virus is extremely contagious — it can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through touching the fluid from chickenpox blisters exposing your child to a pal with pox was often enough to have him catch the disease. And since most kids would get it anyway before a vaccine was introduced in 1995, 90% got chickenpox before the age of 20 parents figured why not catch it and get it over with? Plus, the disease can be more serious in teens and adults than in children, so having it in childhood and developing an immunity to prevent him from getting it later was another incentive.

"You definitely want to be immune to chickenpox before you become an adult, when it's much worse, so parties were a good idea before the vaccine was introduced," says Rodney E. Willoughby, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and a member of the AAP's committee on infectious disease.

Today, it's a bad idea, yet in our era of social media, it's not unheard of to see a "pox playdate" posted online welcoming parents to bring their little ones to a home where a child has the chickenpox. In Boulder, Colorado, parents who fear there could be dangerous side effects of the chickenpox vaccine are even organizing “pox parties” in private Facebook groups.

But unlike the Internet and Facebook, we have something now that didn't exist years ago a safe, effective vaccine for chickenpox. Which means an invite to a chickenpox get-together is now an invitation you should definitely turn down according to the experts.

Why You Should Say No to Chickenpox Parties

Simply put, there are zero pros to taking your child to a chickenpox party because you don't want your child to get chickenpox. Though it's usually not dangerous in most kids, the virus does bring with it the potential for serious complications including pneumonia, bleeding problems, encephalitis (brain swelling), bacterial skin infections, toxic shock syndrome, bone and joint infections, and even death.

Even otherwise healthy kids can suffer dangerous, even life-threatening, complications from chickenpox, and there's no way to predict whether your child will be one of the ones who does. In contrast, "the virus in the vaccine has about a one thousand-fold less chance of serious rare complications than wild chickenpox" the virus you can catch "and close to zero risk of a fatal complication," says Dr. Willoughby.

Even if your child isn't among those who end up with complications from chickenpox, living through the disease itself is no fun. It can be extremely uncomfortable and keep your child out of school or childcare (and you out of work) for more than a week.

"If your child can get a vaccine so he'll never get pox and aren't out of school for 10 days, then why do a chickenpox party? You can schedule a shot for one day, instead of dealing with sickness for ten days," says Dr. Willoughby. "You get the same immune protection with much less suffering. What's not to like?"

More Chickenpox Warnings from Experts

It's possible to purchase an item online often a lollipop purported to contain the chickenpox virus. The idea: have your child lick the used lollipop so she can get chickenpox "naturally." Not only is that gross, it can be downright dangerous.

"It blows my mind that people are doing this because we have a very safe vaccine against chickenpox," says Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., division director, infectious disease at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri, and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) committee on infectious disease. "By doing this, you're going to unintentionally transmit other things like hepatitis B and group A strep. Not to mention that it's illegal to send any virus by mail."

The bottom line? Since 1995, we've had a vaccine that's been proved to be safe and effective. If you want to protect your child from the potentially serious consequences of chickenpox, skip the parties and the pops.

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Comments (4)

Anonymous
June 3, 2019
gymrat3232 And “Californiagirl” are wildly misled. As someone who was brought to a pox party at 6 years old and successfully suffered, from what I remember to be, a brutal high fever and nasty rash all over, including genitalia and still ended up getting the shingles twice so far, it very well did nothing good for me. The first time I had shingles at 18 it started as high fever and aches which led to blisters on my back resulting in unsightly scars. The second time was at 25, (very recent) and was much worse. Not just the fever, but the actual band of blisters wrapped around my torso and spread more quickly than the first, almost as if it came back with vengeance. It seems to be triggered by stress, which is worrisome for someone who could become pregnant in the future. It was wildly irresponsible of my parents to expose us to the pox when the vaccine was very much available at the time and the effects and fatalities were significantly lessened. To intentionally leave your kids vulnerable to diseases that can be avoided with a vaccine is textbook child abuse.
Anonymous
February 22, 2019
I agree with gymrat3232! A lot of misinformation and fear spread upon this society and the world. If any parent wants to learn more about vaccines and common childhood INFECTIONS (they are infections people, not diseases...) watch The High Wire videos on Facebook or Youtube(some of their videos is censored there, unfortunately). Time to wake up!
Anonymous
January 12, 2019
Thats completely false, the vaccine itself has a 4% chance of severe adverse events including brain swelling, the vaccine originally thought to last a lifetime and have no reaction turned out quite the opposite. Its very reactive for a vaccine many many side-effects its even been shown to be spreadable sometimes after vaccination and it doesnt last in all cases leaving your kid vulnerable to it later in life when it is much more dangerous to contract, and they can even get shingles as if they contracted the virus regularly. The upside to intentionally have a young kid contract chicken pox is lifetime immunity, exposure when they are most resilient and being on the parents schedule so that the child is constantly supervised and well cared for. The national vaccine information center has this to say -Yes. Between March 1995 and July 1998, the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) received 6, 574 reports of health problems after chickenpox vaccination. That translates into 67.5 adverse events per 100,000 doses of vaccine or one in 1,481 vaccinations. About four percent of cases (about 1 in 33,000 doses) were serious including shock, encephalitis, thrombocytopenia (blood disorder) and 14 deaths. The VAERS data has led to the addition of 17 adverse events to the manufacturer's product label since the vaccine was licensed in 1995, including secondary bacterial infections (cellulitis), secondary transmission of vaccine virus infection to close contacts, transverse myelitis and Guillain Barre syndrome (brain disorders) and herpes zoster (shingles). There have been documented cases of transmission of vaccine virus from a vaccinated child to household contacts, including a pregnant woman. A study in 2002 confirmed that adults exposed to natural chickenpox disease were protected from developing shingles and that there is concern that mass vaccination against chickenpox may cause a future epidemic of shingles, affecting more than 50 percent of Americans aged 10 to 44 years.
Anonymous
Well said gymrat. I'd add that natural immunity is passed from mother to baby first year of life. That does not happen with fake immunity from the vaccine.