Parents are hosting chicken pox parties so their kids can 'get it over with,' but a pediatrician says the practice is a gamble

John-Kelly/ShutterstockChicken pox causes a blister-like rash on the skin.
  • On Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said that he exposed his nine unvaccinated children to chicken pox to help them become immune to the disease, The Daily Beast reported.
  • People previously reported on the resurgence of chicken pox parties – gatherings where healthy children are put in the same room as a child who has the disease so they can catch it and “get it over with.”
  • Although this makes sense in theory, pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert told INSIDER that pox parties are an unsafe practice with potentially life-threatening health implications.
  • Rather than host or attend chicken pox parties, parents should vaccinate their children to prevent the chicken pox and other viruses, Burgert said.

On Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said that he exposed his nine children, all of whom are unvaccinated, to chicken pox in order to help them gain immunity to the disease, The Daily Beast reported.

In an interview with local radio station WKCT, Bevin said that each of his children had chicken pox at some point during their lives, and that he had sought out a neighbour with the disease to purposefully infect his kids.

Before the chicken pox vaccine became available in 1995, parents often hosted “chicken pox parties” similar to what Bevin described. During these gatherings, healthy children would be put in in the same room as a child who had chicken pox in hopes that the healthy children would contract the disease and “get it over with.” Though this has been out of practice for some time, People recently reported on a resurgence of chicken pox parties.

Although pox parties operate on the premise that most people who contract chicken pox once never get it again, that doesn’t make them safe.

“There is no way to tell in advance how severe your child’s symptoms will be,” the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted on its site. “So it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease.”

Even healthy children can potentially die if they contract chicken pox

Unfortunately, when a person contracts chicken pox, it is impossible to predict the outcome. Even if a child is generally healthy, pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert told INSIDER that it’s a “gamble,” as there is no way to determine how sick they might get if they contract chicken pox.

“It’s impossible to predict,” she said. “Some kids will just get a few [chicken pox], some will die. You just don’t know, so we vaccinate everyone [we can].”

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According to the CDC, a person with a minor case of chicken pox might have headaches, a fever, loss of appetite, and extreme tiredness in addition to the trademark itchy red rash and blistering. In extreme cases, however, an infected person could develop a bacterial infection, pneumonia, brain inflammation, and sepsis, and potentially die.

Exposure to a disease like chicken pox doesn’t boost a person’s immunity

Chicken pox vaccineSean Gallup/Getty ImagesChicken pox vaccinations prevent 100 deaths and 9,000 hospitalizations every year.

People who don’t get vaccinated may also believe that exposure to a disease will better protect them down the line, but Burgert said that isn’t true.

“[It is] incorrect that getting the natural disease is going to make your immunity stronger so you don’t need a vaccine, which is a much safer option,” Burgert told INSIDER. “People don’t realise that the reason we made vaccines is because they can’t kill kids.”

Vaccines contain dead or weakened disease germs and have been proven to boost immune systems safely without exposing people to the airborne form of a disease.

Instead of the exposure approach, parents should vaccinate any child who isn’t medically exempt. Doing so can help create herd immunity, a concept in which as many people as possible get vaccines in order to protect themselves and other community members who are unable to get vaccines for health reasons, like HIV or cancer. In many cases, herd immunity has stopped the spread of once-rampant diseases like diphtheria and whooping cough.


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