Have you ever been invited to a chicken pox party? Or, more accurately, has your child ever been invited to a chicken pox party? On the surface, it might sound like a good idea to expose your children to this disease so they can be infected while still young and be immune to it from then on. But before you RSVP, take some time to learn about chicken pox and why a pox party might not be in your child's best interest.
What Is Chicken Pox?
Chicken pox is a common illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It causes an itchy rash and little fluid-filled blisters called pox. It's very contagious and typically infects school-age children because it's spread through sneezing and coughing, sharing food and drinks or contact with the fluid in the blisters. Although it rarely causes severe illness in children, it does mean 7 to 10 days of school absence and perhaps loss of work for the parents who need to care for the child. Chicken pox in teens and adults is much more severe. The good news about chicken pox is that once you've had it, you almost always are immune to getting it again.
What Are the Symptoms and Complications of Chicken Pox?
Chicken pox usually starts as an itchy rash on the head and neck, which spreads downward to the rest of the body. The rash is often accompanied by fever, headache and tiredness. Within a day or two, small fluid-filled blisters begin to appear. There can be anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of the blisters.
Although complications are uncommon in healthy young children, they can develop a serious staph infection from scratching the blisters. They can also suffer from dehydration, pneumonia, high fever and life-long scars from the blisters. In rare cases, chicken pox can lead to toxic shock, which can be fatal.
Chicken pox in teens and adults is not common because most had the disease as a child, but they generally have a much rougher experience with chicken pox. They are more likely to have a higher or prolonged fever, pneumonia, encephalitis and inflammation of the heart, kidneys and pancreas. Chicken pox is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their babies and people with compromised immune systems such as HIV patients or people undergoing chemotherapy.
Another consequence of chicken pox is the possibility of a shingles infection later in life. If you have had chicken pox, the varicella virus can reactivate causing a painful, itchy rash with large blisters.
Why Not "Get It Over With" Through a Pox Party?
You may think you are doing a good thing by initiating a chicken pox outbreak while he or she is still young, rather than risk them getting a more severe case as an adult. But they don't have to experience chicken pox at all. There is a vaccine that prevents it!
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the varicella vaccine is 98% effective at preventing chicken pox. If you or your child are among the 2% that still gets the disease, it is usually a much milder case. In addition, the vaccine helps prevent shingles later in life.
Take your child to immunization services to get vaccinated rather than a pox party to get infected. Your child will thank you for it.