The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that before chickenpox (Varicella) vaccines were available in the U.S., about four million people would get sick from the virus annually.
Today, you hardly ever hear about a child contracting chickenpox. This is a big relief for some parents, but a big concern for others, who believe it's important for their children to get the disease naturally in order to develop immunity later in life.
That's why a small group of parents who are worried about giving their children the chickenpox vaccine are planning some very special parties for their kids.
Shannon Shanely is the mother of three girls -- Mia, Avery and Kaija.
"We got lollipops and shared lollipops," Shanely said. "We had a dinner party to share cups and things to try to cross-contaminate each other."
It took five different chickenpox parties before Avery, 7, spotted her first sign of chickenpox. She was thrilled, and so was her mother.
For Avery, getting chickenpox meant getting the special pink lotion.
For her mother, the experience offered her child lifelong immunity without getting the vaccine.
A chickenpox party is not a celebration, but rather, more like a play date with a purpose.
Shanely, like other mothers, decided giving her girls a vaccine for what is usually a mild virus wasn't critical.
She could have opted to have the chickenpox vaccine administered by a nurse at her local health department or at a physician's office, but she doesn't trust the statistics.
According to the CDC, eight or nine of every 10 vaccinated people are completely protected, and those that do still get chickenpox often have a very mild case.
Shanely says she has seen teens and adults end up in the hospital with chickenpox even though they were vaccinated when they were younger.
She realizes booster shots are available to increase one's immunity to the virus. Still, she believes for this bug, it's best to actively acquire immunity rather than subject her children to a vaccination for this particular virus.
For other mothers, it's the idea of intentionally getting the disease that seems to cause so much ire.
"If it's so natural, why go out of your way to expose your child to this if they could just get it naturally?" asks Kelley Crowe, a mother of two.
Since 1995, most children have been vaccinated, making it hard to catch chickenpox from someone else.
Even finding a party takes a good deal of networking.
"In fact, the residents we train, it's hard for them to even recognize chickenpox anymore," comments Dr. Amina Ahmed, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.
For parents trying to forego the chickenpox vaccine, it's hard to find a physician who will agree to changing the vaccine schedule or eliminating one all together.
Ahmed says parents need to do their research on this decision and find a family doctor who will be open to discussion.
Her biggest concern about the parties isn't the chickenpox -- it's the method.
"Yuck! Why would I want to share anyone's secretions? I can understand how they're trying to transmit it, but it's important to realize that you're not just transmitting chickenpox," Ahmed points out.
Swapping spit on candy or cups can also transmit herpes, mono or the flu.
Since children can become contaminated with all sorts of "cooties" while playing, some party parents prefer a more precise approach.
"We actually took one of the chickenpox from a sick child, and put it in another child's nose as a direct way to know he's not going to catch anything else," Shanely says.
Others have resorted to the internet, where chickenpox pops and blankets can be purchased.
Keep in mind, sending an infectious disease by mail is a federal crime, although its unlikely the virus will survive the trip.
Doctors say it's best not to take your chances via sharing, or via a shot.
Taking care of chickenpox comes down to a parent's choice made under doctor's counsel, all with the intention to help kids put their healthiest little foot forward.
Typically, once a person gets chickenpox, they never get it again, although they can still get shingles as they grow older.
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