The recent outbreak of measles cases, most of which can be traced back to exposure at Disneyland, had parents and doctors in an uproar both for and against vaccination policies. Yet something else has emerged from the public health issue in addition to heated debate: the resurrection of measles parties.
Also known as a “pox” party, measles parties–where parents deliberately expose their children to an infected peer–were popular in the 50’s and 60’s before the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was fully implemented into the public health system. During these parties, parents hoped their child would come down with measles naturally to build natural immunity, immunity which is still considered superior to vaccinated immunity.
Recent media reports indicate the anti-vaccination movement is now bringing such parties back into popularity, much to the dismay of health officials and doctors around the nation. What’s more, parents who don’t know someone with the measles are ordering packets of infected material from other parents around the country (an activity that became popular for chickenpox) and are illegally receiving these packages through the mail.
Why pox parties are a bad idea
Advocates of pox parties argue that most children come down with measles and make a full recovery without medical intervention. Those children are then considered immune for life, something vaccinated children can’t claim because no vaccine is 100 percent efficacious. The only downside to this argument, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is that measles can be deadly for children, particularly those under the age of five. There is no way to predict which children will fight off the infection without issue and which ones will suffer from the worst-case scenarios of pneumonia, brain swelling, or death.
“This is a really bad idea,” said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical editor, of the measles parties. “Although most children recover from chicken pox and measles without a problem, not all do. The vaccines are far safer than the diseases.
David Gorksi, who heads up Science-Based Medicine, indicates prior to the MMR vaccine, there was a valid argument for pox parties. With the introduction of a working vaccine, however, there is no need to expose children to a potentially deadly virus regardless of how low the mortality rate may be. For a parent who loses a child to measles, mortality rate has no meaning.
In addition to hosting pox parties, sending contagious pathogens in the mail is highly illegal at the federal level. The act is akin, in the government’s eyes, to bioterrorism. Gorski adds parents often forget that pox parties and infectious pathogens sent through the mail can exposure children to innumerable other diseases.
“At the risk of being too strident or nasty or uncivil, I can say unequivocally that what they are doing is, in my opinion, child abuse and that I hope that the feds come down on them like a ton of bricks for violating federal law and endangering everyone who comes into contact with their little pox packages,” Gorski said in conclusion.
Some parents are arguing on forums the measles vaccine has a track record of causing more issues than it has prevented, harming more children than measles itself. The Centers for Disease Control indicates adverse effects from the MMR vaccine are so rare it cannot be said for certain the vaccine is the actual cause; what’s more, it’s not the measles part of the vaccine that tends to cause side-effects.
AP reports the current measles outbreak has resulted in 30 percent of cases requiring hospitalization. While vaccination is effective protection against measles, it cannot be considered 100 percent guaranteed. For this reason, it is important for parents to be aware of the measles status of their current community.