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Parents Buy Chickenpox-Laced Lollipops, Have Kids Attend 'Pox Parties' to Avoid Vaccines

It looks like the kind of story that would be quickly debunked by a search on Snopes, but as the message is being delivered by Jerry Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, I'm going to assume that it is legitimate. In short, parents who don't want to get their children vaccinated for chickenpox are paying strangers to mail them lollipops supposedly licked by people who have chickenpox. These parents then give the chickenpox-laced lollipop to their children to lick and hopefully contract the virus. The idea is that after suffering through having this self-inflicted chickenpox, the kids will then have immunity without needing the vaccine. Wonderful!

The Associated Press reported Martin's comments about people who are connecting in Facebook groups to buy and sell these lollipops or sometimes even just spit. In one Facebook post noted by the AP, for example, a Nashville woman reportedly offered a "fresh batch of pox in Nashville shipping of suckers, spit and Q-tips available tomorrow 50 dollars via PayPal." Martin stated that it is a federal crime to send diseases or viruses across state lines, and that perpetrators face up to 20 years in prison.

Legalities aside, doctors say that the chickenpox-lollipop idea is a terrible one. William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told WebMD that "there is nothing good to be said about this. It is a totally misinformed concept." Here are a few of the reasons:

  • Although it is theoretically possible, it is unlikely to achieve the goal of transmitting chickenpox. Schaffner explains that "chickenpox is not spread through oral secretions but by the respiratory route. You have to inhale this virus for it to be successful. It’s spread through sneezing or couching or just breathing out the virus."
  • On the other hand, there will definitely be other germs, bacteria and perhaps viruses on the used lollipop. So the child being given the used chickenpox lollipop may be receiving something else, such as a staph infection or hepatitis.
  • Even if this scheme succeeds in getting a child sick with chickenpox, Schaffner says there may be "worst-case" consequences such as chickenpox encephalitis and chickenpox pneumonia that can leave a child semi-comatose. 

Beyond the lollipop idea, the AP reports that parents are also taking their kids to "Pox Parties" that hook kids with chickenpox up with those who do not. There is even a Facebook group called "Find a Pox Party in Your Area."

Posted by Bruce Carton on November 7, 2011 at 04:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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