'Pox parties' still pose risk for severe chickenpox

To the dismay of pediatric specialists, some parents continue to shun the varicella vaccine despite its high success rate in preventing chickenpox. Instead, many turn to "pox parties," where children are deliberately exposed to the virus in the hope that they will be protected from later, more serious infection.

To the dismay of pediatric specialists, some parents continue to shun the varicella vaccine despite its high success rate in preventing chickenpox. Instead, many turn to "pox parties," where children are deliberately exposed to the virus in the hope that they will be protected from later, more serious infection. Whether misinformation has poisoned them against vaccination or they wrongly perceive chickenpox as a "benign illness," pediatrics professor William T. Gerson of the University of Vermont College of Medicine warns that they are taking a huge gamble with their kids' health. Adverse events can include pneumonia, sepsis, bleeding problems, a host of infections, and even death. Most people who are vaccinated do not experience these complications; but those who are infected naturally, such as through pox parties, are more vulnerable because the virus has not been weakened or attenuated. "The risks associated with vaccine are far less than those we see from natural disease," stresses Vanderbilt University's Kathryn M. Edwards, MD. "Condoning the practice of exposing children to natural varicella when it can be prevented by vaccine is medical malpractice."