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Pox Parties of Yore

Pox Parties of Yore

Before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995, “Pox Parties” were not uncommon, where healthy, chicken-pox naive children were invited to spend some time with an infected child.  It sounds a little crazy for a parent to purposely expose a child to an infectious disease but to be honest, these parties offered some benefits to families. It was fair to assume in this prevaccine era that your child had a more than 95% chance of contracting varicella before the age of 15. Parents also realized that the risk of complications from the disease was worse in adults, so since infection at some point in a person’s life was almost inevitable, why not have it done with during childhood.

Another advantage to sending your child to a Pox Party was that you had a good idea of when your child would become ill, usually about 2 weeks later but with a range of 10-21 days after exposure. 

Having been a pediatrician in the prevaccine era, I remember distraught parents having to cancel vacations and not-so-distraught teens missing final exams, SATs, etc, as the disease set in.

On the other hand, chicken pox is not always a benign illness. Before 1995, about 11,000 hospitalizations per year occurred with 100-125 deaths per year. Sadly, a variation on the Pox Party still occurs.  In 2011 a federal prosecutor in Tennessee investigated reports of a ring of parents who were mailing lollipops licked by a child with varicella to other antivaccine parents wanting to infect their children. Let's see how you do with one legal question and one medical one on the topic.

1. Mailing an infected lollipop is:

A. Stupid, but not illegal

B. Illegal, but only if the mail crosses state lines

C. Illegal regardless of where it is mailed.

For answer, discussion, and another question, please click here.


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