I am one of those lucky few who have had the chicken pox more than once. Both times were before the age of two, so I am fortunate enough to not remember being ill. Since the second encounter with the virus, my immune system has been pretty good at fending it off. I am certain that I have encountered it many times since the age of two.
Some of you out there may have been exposed to this virus on purpose. Perhaps a neighbour kid started to be ill and your mom rushed you over to play with him/her---all with the purpose of getting you sick. Well, not really. The real reason your mom used was that an early exposure to chicken pox would give you a milder case. People who get chicken pox later in life tend to have life-threatening complications. Better to get it as a young child and gain protection for yourself for the rest of your life.
Was this really such a hot idea? And more importantly, was there any sort of factual basis to support these "pox parties"?
Like most conventional wisdom, there is a bit of fact contained within the package. There is now a vaccine available to prevent chicken pox (or at least keep symptoms mild). Yet many parents are sticking with tradition and forgoing the vaccine.
What if they knew that "before the vaccination was available (1995), there were 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths annually in the United States from chickenpox, also known as varicella. During 2003 and the first half of 2004, the CDC reported eight deaths from varicella, six of whom were children or adolescents. While the vaccine protects 70 percent to 90 percent of those who receive it, those who do contract the disease after vaccination usually get a milder case than what occurs naturally." (Source)
Would you still go out to party with the pox? What if, in today's legal climate, a neighbour kid who came to such a party at your house, caught the virus and died? (The Washington Post has recently published an article about the resurgence of "pox parties.")
When I think about parents in the article waxing nostalgic for the chicken pox event with friends, I am reminded of something else I heard: pain has no memory. The meaning here is that while we remember being hurt and being in pain---we don't actually keep the memory of its intensity. Maybe these parents don't remember how miserable the chicken pox makes a body feel. And it is so much more pleasant to remember playing with your friends and staying home from school.
You might know that chicken pox can come back to you in adulthood in the form of shingles. I've heard that these are really nasty. And interestingly enough, a vaccine to prevent them is about to be approved. I wonder if the parents who are taking kids to pox parties will ask about the vaccine for themselves.