Do people actually throw pox parties?

My parenty friends were talking about this recently, that when a kid gets chicken pox some parents encourage their children to catch it by having a ‘pox party’. Any truth in this? Is it a wise thing to do?

Yes, it happens. My sister was invited to one (actually, her daughter). They are often sponsored by anti-vaccination folks who prefer their children to incur the somewhat higher risk of contracting the disease rather than the lower risk of being vaccinated. My sister used to be involved with La Leche League, a breast-feeding support/education group, which, in her case, attracted some anti-vaccination crackpots.

My sister’s children are fully vaccinated.

No, it is not a wise thing to do.


Yes. My mom took me to a neighbors house when I was 8. The kid had the chicken pox, and I was supposed to keep him company. A bunch of other area children were there to keep him company as well. I remarked that he must have been a lonely child.

Anyway, at the time it was done because supposedly catching the pox when you were a kid was a lot better than catching it when you were an adult. Now with the use of vaccinations, there is no need for such nonsense.

Of course, people were sent to keep me company as well. I told them the truth, and it caused quite an uproar amongst the parents and their kids.

I heard of these when I was a kid, before there was a chickenpox vaccine. Some parents supposedly tried to get their kids to get chickenpox especially during summer vacation, so they wouldn’t have to miss school. As a kid, I thought that sounded like an awfully mean thing to do- if you have to have chickenpox, you might as well get to miss school, at least.

I had chickenpox when I was 4. I remember being very itchy, and I still have scars (I scratched when my mom wasn’t looking). It’s not something I would put anyone else through if it could be prevented.

It used to be done for other diseases as well, like mumps, before vaccines were available. In the case of mumps, it actually made a fair amount of sense, because it can be quite dangerous if caught as an adult.

One rationale I have heard (I am not saying it is a valid one) is that the vaccine doesn’t convey a permanent immunity and that contracting the disease (and surviving it) does. All I know is that I got it when I was 23 and it sucked.


I think the notion has fallen by the wayside in recent years but pre-chicken pox vaccine I think it was a good idea.

Chicken pox was common enough that most people got it anyway, so it makes more sense to have an outbreak and have everyone inconvenienced at the same time. In today’s world if someone were to contract it at a “party” it would not surprise me if, in the unfortunate event of a bad outcome, the child’s parents started trying to find some liability.

It’s true that chicken pox is usually handled by children better than adults, and it’s been common for me in years past to see a patient whose vacation/wedding/big day was ruined by chicken pox because she was among the unfortunate few who did not contract it as a child. Our kids’ private school stopped asking me for advice after they asked me what to do about a chicken pox student (many years ago). My advice was to have the kid come in and hack on every other kid in school.

I don’t think vaccination is available for chicken pox in the Irish Republic.

Not necessarily. My sister and I had chickenpox twice each. In both of our cases, the first was a particularly mild one, and Mom was happy that we got off so easily, but it was not to be.

The reason vaccination doesn’t provide immunity forever is not because of the vaccine but rather because the disease is rare.

To oversimplify, let’s say you get a vaccine for mumps. Again I’m oversimplifying here, in the old days, you got the mumps. Then each year you were exposed to other people getting the mumps, but because your immune system was exposed previously, it says “Ah there are the mumps, and wipes out the virus quickly before you even notice.” Because you were exposed so often the immunity always stayed high.

Now even if you got the mumps, ten years from now you may never have come across another case of the mumps. So even with the disease, your body lets down its guard, because it only keeps up the immunity by being exposed. Your body always takes the line of least resistance. It isn’t going to waste resources keeping up mump immunity if you never come across it again.

This is why vaccines can fail. You get it and because everyone else is getting vaccinated, your body never gets exposed to another case of mumps, so in time, the body says, “Well this is stupid, wasting resources keeping up a full immunity to mumps, if we never see another case of it.”

Back in the Dark Ages before vaccines, I was about four years old when I caught rubella (German measles.) Whereupon my teenage sister caught it almost immediately. However, my other sister remained stubbornly healthy. After waiting a few days, our kindly family doctor took throat swabs from both me and my afflicted sister, and gave my healthy sister a concentrated, double exposure to rubella, which finally made her sick.

Mind you, this was 1956, a long time before anyone had even dreamed up the idea of pox parties. But even then, medical science knew it was better for a girl to have rubella as a child or teenager than as an adult (particularly as a pregnant adult.) The first rubella vaccine wouldn’t come along until after both my sisters had had their first children.

If this is the case (and I’m not saying it isn’t - makes enough sense to me after one semester of Microbiology), then why is it that boosters need to be given at different times for different pathogens, and some never at all? What makes a chickenpox Memory B Cell give up the ghost after 10 years and a polio Memory B Cell stays with you for life?

No supposedly about it. Adult chicken pox can be very dangerous.

Thankfully, I never went to a pox party as a child, but never contracted the disease either. The vaccine became available when I was a teenager, and so I got that. My brother, OTOH, got chicken pox twice.

He deserved it though.

When I was a kid, one of us siblings got the chicken pox. My parents took the opportunity to make sure that we all got it and all stayed home from school at the same time. No other friends were invited to our party though.

South Park did it!

I offered to babysit a kid with the pox when I was fifteen, as I hadn’t gotten it yet. I was afraid of waiting too much longer. If I had waited four more years, there’d have been a vaccine. Dammit.

Yeah, I read about pox parties in our local paper. Seems ridiculous, and it must be getting harder to find a kid with chicken pox.

Figure that out, and you’ll have a very nice career in molecular immunology ahead of you.

And for some diseases, like polio, it’s an even bigger deal.

When I was a kid, we had a big one. It was called “the first grade”. Actually, it was the whole school, K-4, but I was only invited to the first grade party. I’m old enough that there was no mumps nor chicken pox vacinations then. Actually, I think I did eventually get the mumps vaccine, even though I already had the illness…I was the third kid and my mom insisted that I had never had it, even though I remembered it vividly.

:smiley: Cool. I actually like answers like that (especially from you!) Means I’m not asking entirely clueless questions, and there’s still lots of stuff to learn.