In the news of the weird today, people are using Facebook to organize "Pox Parties." For those of you who don't know what a pox party is, it's the controversial, if time-honored, tradition of getting kids together for a playdate with a child who has already contracted chickenpox, in order to purposely infect the well children with chickenpox.
The somewhat iffy rationale behind this practice is to get the chickenpox over and done with while the kids are young and won't be too bothered by the virus. Involving Facebook in the process of organizing such ill-advised events is probably inevitable, since many people like to use Facebook as a tool for facilitating gatherings.
When I was growing up, there was no vaccine for chickenpox, more officially referred to as the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). The vaccine was introduced in the United States in 1995. My mom thought pox parties were barbaric and constituted child abuse, so she avoided exposing my brother and me to sick playmates. I'm not going to tell you she was wrong (especially since chickenpox can have some potentially serious complications, one of which is actually death).
What I will tell you is that having the chickenpox at the age of 19 sucks. I caught it from my brother, who was 16 at the time. I was very sick for at least two weeks of what seemed like eternity. I still have scars.
According to the CDC, the best alternative to this dilemma is the Varicella vaccination (unless a Neosporin /neomycin allergy or one of a few other contraindications is present). This protects against the virus and gives better immunity against future outbreaks of shingles for the person who is vaccinated.
However, as community exposure to the chickenpox virus is minimized due to increased vaccine immunity, the serious, painful, and debilitating mess that is Herpes Zoster, or shingles, has increased among older adults. Although a vaccine is available for shingles, it's not recommended for people under the age of 60 (although shingles can actually strike before that age). Many people who might really benefit from the shingles vaccine aren't getting it for a number of reasons, which include lack of knowledge about shingles or the fact that a vaccine even exists, lack of insurance reimbursement, cost, and availability.
Lots of people are down on vaccines these days. I guess I have to respect peoples' right to their opinions (even if I truly don't respect the opinions themselves). I will disclose here that, as a nurse, I am pretty positive about vaccines. I think they beat the alternative.
When the Pox Party pops over the top
Some people have taken the pox party idea too far, by offering pox-infected lollipops for sale on Facebook. This is very disturbing. I mean, if a parent doesn't feel good about a carefully researched and engineered CDC-recommended vaccine, how can that parent possibly feel good about mail-ordering and putting a randomly infected lollipop in a child's mouth?
Some of the issues with this include the following items.
Who knows where that lollipop has been? What if it contains other diseases? There are a whole host of really scary communicable diseases out there, and there's no guarantee that the kid sharing his chickenpox isn't also sharing some other nasty free bonus infection.
It's illegal to ship diseases for good reason! How many people will handle the infected package? What if someone who handles that box-o-pox gets sick?
There's a reason they ask you if you're mailing anything hazardous, fragile, or perishable when you're sending something. Could a case be made that this can be considered a form of bioterrorism?
Community members with weakened immune systems are endangered by this practice, and certainly do not need yet another hazard in their midst.
The child infected with Varicella today may grow up to have Herpes Zoster later in life, which can be very debilitating.
What if the lollipop has been drugged or otherwise tampered with by some sicko?
Last, and probably least, what if the random person selling the lollipop is just ripping you off?
That's just a quick list off the top of my head. According to the New York Times Well blog, law enforcement officials have been clamping down on this practice of shipping infected items, warning of possible long jail terms.
Facebook posts advertising infected lollipops and other items have been removed as of this writing, but could always crop up again.
If you see more misguided examples of this sort of crime, it might be a good idea to let someone in a position of authority know about it so that it can be stopped. Before it hurts someone.
What's your opinion of the Facebook pox pops, or of pox parties in general? Share your chickenpox stories in the TalkBacks below.