A conversation bubbled up today between myself and a few colleagues at work. It was about illness, in particular measles and mumps. Then out of nowhere, a good friends said “and they’re even having Chicken Pox parties now.” Wait, what? A party where you go to get Chicken Pox? It couldn’t be true, could it? Well, it is true.

It seems like something that goes against every instinct of good parenting. As a dad of two little girls myself, I try to do everything I can to stop them getting sick. You can’t help sniffles and the occasional ear infection, especially once they start going to pre-school and kindergarten. But the idea of putting my girls in an environment that tries to intentionally give them the dreaded CP, well that just made me step back in amazement.

These “Exposure Parties” as they’re also known have been around for some time. I found several articles from medical journals dating back 5-6 years. Others say they have been around for decades, saying that they started re-appearing after the Varicella vaccine was licensed in 1995. Several major studies came to light around that time reporting the risks of the vaccine, including seizures, shingles, strokes and fever. Religion is also another reason the vaccine was avoided. And as the parties grow in popularity, the chances are you and your child(ren) may just get an invite.

The big question is, would you go?

To answer that, you’d probably need to know a little more about the parties and Chicken Pox. I researched several places, including trusted sources like Parenting Magazine and the AMA.

The typical Exposure Party seems to be an extreme social mixer, where children arrive at the home of a child with Chicken Pox and proceed to play together, sharing sippy cups and food trays, eating each other’s lollipops and candies and basically having as much physical interaction as possible. Yuck.

As Chicken Pox is highly contagious, the chances of your child picking up the disease from such a party are very high. It’s a kind of “you bring the jello, I’ll supply the sick kid” arrangement. The benefit of this is for everyone in the neighborhood to get their kids sick with Chicken Pox at the same time, and also to get them immune to the disease in future without the risks of the vaccine (more on that in a second). 

Now, if you don’t already know, Chicken Pox brings with it a smorgasbord of dangerous symptoms and health problems. These risks include:

•    Anywhere from 300 – 1500 blisters over the head and body.
•    Bacterial infections of the blisters.
•    Root cause of pneumonia
•    Important risk factor in streptococcal disease
•    Risk of fatality (1 in 10,000)

I don’t know about you, but if someone told me those risks, I would run hastily in the opposite direction from that party. Life is risky enough, why put your child in more danger? Well, it seems that many concerned parents would still rather expose their children to the virus than the vaccine.

I did a little research (stress “little” here, I spent hours on this, you should spend way more time) on the Varicella vaccine and it’s definitely a polarizing issue. It seems that strokes were tied to the vaccine for some time, although a study published in the journal “Pediatrics” now offers evidence that the Chicken Pox vaccine has no correlation to strokes and/or brain inflammation in children.

That’s not the end of the story though. The same journal also published articles that showed the dangers of the vaccines, including one about a case of severe varicella in a child who received the vaccine (this particular child had T-Cell dysfunction). 

And the Baltimore Chronicle concluded recently that wholesale vaccinations for HepB, MMR, DPT and Chickenpox are just not worth the risk.

So as a parent concerned with the health and well-being of your child, what do you do? My advice is to talk to your pediatrician and your family practitioner. Tell them your concerns, and talk to them about these “exposure parties.” I have found arguments both for and against these parties, and at the moment I’m siding with the vaccine over the Chicken Pox social. But, like any good parent, you need to make up your own mind based on your own research and your own particular situation and family health history. Let us know what you find out, and if you have actually been to one of these unusual get-togethers.

Further reading:

http://parenting.families.com/blog/your-childs-been-invited-to-a-pox-party

http://www.mothering.com/articles/growing_child/child_health/chickenpox_party.html

http://www.immunizationinfo.org/exposure_parties_detail.cfv?id=20

www.mercola.com/2001/feb/14/chicken_pox_vaccine.htm

http://www.nypost.com/pagesixmag/issues/20090111/

http://www.observer.com/2009/politics/

http://curezone.com/forums/f.asp?f=579&t=63877.07

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/g/