Chickenpox Lollipops and Party Shingles

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In November 2011 the USA issued a warning that selling chickenpox infected lollipops through the mail service was illegal and dangerous.

Groups of mothers had been organizing ‘pox’ parties through social media. The idea was that you took your child along to a party to get them to catch chicken pox. Some mothers then started offering to send lollipops through the post that had been licked by infected children. Admittedly this was a step too far – who knows what other viruses the varicella-donating children might have stuck to the lollipop. Also, the chickenpox virus is airborne so from a technical point of view, the lollipop was not the best inoculation vehicle.

There then ensued the usual coverage that an unusual story draws, especially one with danger, criminal elements, capped off with a topical issue such as compulsory childhood vaccinations.

What I find fascinating about this and the subsequent coverage is that the story morphed into a huge drama about childhood vaccinations per se rather than sticking (no pun intended) to the chickenpox issue. Natural inoculation against the wild type chickenpox virus was the objective. Neither measles nor any other virus.

The press came out heavily on the side of government vaccination programs and the ‘Find pox parties near you’ social media pages were shut down.

The general policy in schools in the UK is to notify the nursery or school that a child has chickenpox, and then keep them at home until no longer infectious. PatientQI researched the policy in other EU countries and found that in some countries parents are simply notified by the school or nursery that there is an outbreak and infected children are still allowed to attend on the condition that they do not have a fever. Effectively they are encouraging infection with the virus – almost a daytime pox party.

So why were these American mothers so determined that their young children should catch chickenpox rather than vaccinate? There is clearly more to this than the important issue of the right to choose.

Varicella- Zoster Virus (VZV) is the virus that causes both childhood chickenpox and shingles in adults. It is a mild self-limiting disease with only 0.2-0.3% of children requiring treatment for complications (as compared to 30% for measles).
The VZV vaccine has been available since the 1970s. In 1995, the US made vaccination obligatory, but the EU has been very slow on the uptake. Germany stepped in with compulsory vaccination first followed by other EU countries and Spain introduced it in January 2012. Interestingly there is no vaccination program for Varicella in Belgium possibly because the average age at which a child catches chickenpox is very young - especially in Flanders. Consequently, many children have had chicken pox before they reach vaccination age.
Given that this is a mild self-limiting childhood illness presumably the lollipop ladies strongly questioned the reasons for vaccinating. There is always a risk of any primary viral infection to pregnant women, and this could be the logic behind the vaccination program. Not so, given this quote from the NHS website:
"Chickenpox during pregnancy can cause complications both for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby. However, the risk of complications is low. It’s rare to get chickenpox when you’re pregnant. In the UK, it’s estimated that about three in every 1,000 women (0.3%) catch chickenpox during pregnancy. Most pregnant women who get chickenpox recover, with no adverse effects on the baby."
So we come back to the idea of a state funded ´BigPharma cash cow´.

A case for viruses educating the immune system.
There is evidence to say that having chickenpox at a young age protects against asthmas and atopic eczema. There is also growing evidence that children incubating the virus are naturally boosting the immunity of people they come into contact with, such as their parents and grandparents - highly likely as the virus incubates for up to 21 days. Contact with the virus every 5 –10 years seems to be enough to keep an adult’s immunity sufficiently high to prevent a shingles outbreak.

Since the vaccination programs began there has been much less opportunity for adults to come into contact with the virus, hence there has been less boosting of natural immunity which has resulted in a greater likelihood of getting shingles. There are increasing numbers of posts on the internet describing shingles in middle age, rather than in the elderly population. Shingles was one of the top health searches on the internet in 2012.

So presumably, rather than vaccinating only the vulnerable and elderly, all adults will soon have to be vaccinated against the virus to protect against shingles.

I smell another state funded BigPharma cash cow.

Looks like it’s time for middle aged pox party reunions. (Dress code: Chickenpox spots only! Measles, mumps, rubella, and any other rashes all refused entry).



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