Chickenpox Party-RSVP?

The infamous chicken pox party.
Even if you choose to vaccinate per the CDC’s recommended schedule (see 2013 update here), there is a likely chance you are aware of what a pox party is.
Here is the history, the rational and why I choose not to RSVP.
Welcome to the Party
“Chicken Pox Party” (aka Pox Party) - This term refers to when parents intentionally expose their otherwise healthy child to the varicella virus in hopes they contract the disease to promote natural immunity.
A person does not necessarily have to have a party. Some parents attempt to collect some type of infected material such as saliva, the elusive licked lollipop, or piece of clothing from the infected child/person.
However, it is unlikely that these particular methods will transmit the chickenpox virus effectively or reliably. This is because the varicella virus cannot survive for very long on the surface of such items. 
Forms of controlled inoculation are not new at all. Small pox and rubella are a few examples of diseases that where purposely transmitted in children earlier in history.
Chicken pox parties, in particular, were popular in the 1980’s prior to the national vaccination program included in the CDC’s list as of 1995. These gatherings would normally consist of family members or groups of children that play together/live near each other. These “pox parties” were among people that the families knew well.
The Purpose
If you decline the varicella vaccine for your child or if you aren't exposed to the wild-type strain, there is a risk (as with any disease), that your child may contract the disease later in life.
The purposeful infection of chickenpox is typically organized by parents on the main premise that contracting chicken pox at a younger age is less severe than if the disease is caught in adulthood.
It is well documented that complications in chickenpox are more likely to occur adults then in children. Considering that adults (13 yrs of age or older) only account for 5 percent of chickenpox cases each year, they account for a disproportionate number of deaths (55 percent).[1]
(On a side note, other diseases listed as being more severe later in life are measles and influenza. Flu-party anyone?)
RSVP, Regrets Only Please
While I can comprehend and appreciate the reasoning of a chickenpox party, I would not seek out and partake in one.  While we have chosen to decline this vaccine, there are several reasons why I would also decline this invite.
Reason 1
You cannot predict who will have a moderate or severe reaction.
Although it may be less common, children still have the potential to have a reaction from the varicella virus. Holding the full intention in making your healthy child sick with this virus, what if something did happen? 
Reason 2
A child depends on their parents completely to keep them safe and healthy. How is intentionally making your child sick fulfilling this obligation? Even if it is in hopes of the rare occasion they may contract chickenpox in adulthood and have a terrible, life-altering reaction from it.
One of the arguments people present concerning the use of vaccines is that they are unnatural. For me, a part of seeking out a disease to intentionally make a child sick carries something to be said about being unnatural as well.  
Reason 3
Is the significant risk real in adulthood?
Prior to the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995, there were approximately 4,000 annual cases of adult chicken pox resulting in 50 deaths from the disease.[2][3]
After the vaccine was introduced, there are approximately 1 in 2,254 annual cases in the United States (that’s 0.04 percent).[4]
Complications from adult chickenpox are still fairly rare considering 90 percent of cases occurring children younger then 10 years of age. This risk in adulthood largely accounts for adults with eczema, compromised immune systems, and those taking steroid medications.[5]
Bacterial superinfection of the skin is the most common serious complication of chickenpox in adults (but is still very rare).[6][7]
In my opinion, this does not give me a reason to deliberately seek out an infectious disease and hope my daughter contracts it in her youth. Moving from a 0.04 percent of potential risk to 100 percent potential risk doesn’t add up for me.
Reason 4 
The effectiveness of both the vaccine and wild-type chickenpox in youth to defer future attacks in adulthood relies heavily on the incidence of wild-type chickenpox within the community to act as boosters throughout life. This is noted in the package insert for the chickenpox vaccine as well as other peer-reviewed journals.
This means that if chickenpox is not common and you have been exposed to the virus while in your childhood (either by vaccine or naturally), you risk developing it again in adulthood or even suffering from the more severe disease of shingles.
Would this mean that once you have successfully given your child chickenpox, they would be reliant on attending chicken pox parties throughout their lives or require booster vaccines? That’s not something I would want.
Reason 5
By infecting a child with chickenpox intentionally, a parent is also placing their child at risk of suffering from shingles later in life.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a concern for children who contract chickenpox naturally and via vaccine administration.[8]
Here is the concern with Shingles:
The nationwide-mass varicella vaccination program has the medical community bracing for a major increase of herpes-zoster (shingles). This is, again, due to the lack of wild-type boosting properties of chickenpox that has been lost over the last decade.[8][9]
The highest increase of shingles has been seen among those 25 to 44 years and over 65 years of age. [8]
Shingles is a very painful rash that can turn into agonizing blisters. The painful (not itchy) rash can disrupt sleep and eating habits which has the potential in resulting in a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) which causes severe pain even when the rash clears. 

Are There Benefits?
Sure there are, and don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not a proponent for the varicella vaccine. If I had to choose one over the other I would choose the wild-type strain naturally contracted.
However, we are in a precarious situation. Since the wild-type strain of chickenpox is extremely limited. When a parent exposes a child to the virus (which will lay dormant in their nervous system) in hopes of them having a more mild reaction then they would in adulthood - we are setting them up in an environment that does not offer boosters throughout life.
Again, they would then have two choices in adulthood - seek out more wild-strain chicken pox parties or get a booster vaccine (Chickenpox or shingles).
Another possible benefit of exposure in childhood would be that a woman gains the ability to pass on antibodies to her newborn which is more susceptible to adverse reactions from the virus (something that has not been documented on happening in vaccine induced immunity).
Every part of my being is passionate with making my daughters as healthy and happy as possible...the act of intentionally getting them sick “just in case” doesn’t seem to coincide with that (for me).

If my daughters became infected with chickenpox (or measles or whatever) naturally, I would welcome the implications that comes with it (natural immunity, stronger immune response, etc), but I couldn't devise a plan to purposefully infect my little ladies with disease. Nah, couldn’t do it.

[1] Schoenstadt, A. Adult Chickenpox-Diagnosing and Treating Adult Chickenpox. MedTV Website. Oct 2006
[2] Adult Chicken Pox on Website
[3]   Schoenstadt, A. Chickenpox and Death. MedTV Website. Oct 2006
[4] Prevalence and Incidence of Chickenpox. Right Diagnosis website. Source statistic for calculation
[5] Infectious Diseases-Chickenpox. Medicalook Website
[6] Shingles and chickenpox (Varicella-zoster virus) – complications. University of Maryland Medical Center website.
[7] Nnama, H. (reviewed by D Fisher). Compications from Adult Chickenpox. Jul 2010
[8] Schmid, D. S., Jumaan, A., Impact of Varicella Vaccine on Varicella-Zoster Virus Dynamics. Clinical Microbiology Reviews. Vol 23 (1): 202-217. Jan 2010
[9] Brisson, M., Gay, N. J., Edmunds, W.J., Andrews, N.J. Exposure to varicella boosts immunity to herpes-zoster:implications for mass vaccination against chickenpox. Vaccine. Vol 20 Issues 19-20: 2500-2507. Jun 2002


  1. Thanks for those 2 cents! I'm so glad I found your blog, I appreciate all the research you sift through and share, saves me a lot of time and sometimes opens my mind to things I never even thought of. Thank you!


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