Tag: The Simpsons

Believe It or Not, Chicken Pox Parties Are Still a Thing

Do you remember having chicken pox?

Oh boy, I sure do!

I was about six or seven years old and it was bad. Still, I’m not sure if I remember because I had such a bad case or because it made me miss Halloween that year.

It was almost certainly both, as I remember being covered in spots from head to toe.

What I don’t recall is having many visitors. Why didn’t my mom throw me a chicken pox party!

I also don’t remember going to a chicken pox party to get sick.

Believe It or Not, Chicken Pox Parties Are Still a Thing

Whether or not chicken pox parties were ever that popular, the approval of the chicken pox vaccine in 1995 should have put an end to the practice.

After all, why intentionally expose your child to a potentially life-threatening disease, when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?

“Chickenpox (varicella) is generally a much milder illness in children than in adults, with considerably lower rates of severe disease and death. Varicella is also virtually universal in many populations, meaning that very few individuals escape infection over a lifetime. Thus, a sound logic underlies the idea of chickenpox parties, at which susceptible children can acquire the contagious causative pathogen, varicella zoster virus (VZV), from their peers. However, chickenpox is not without risks, even for children of this age; severe, complicated, and occasionally fatal varicella occur in previously healthy children, as well as the immunocompromised (who are at very considerable risk).”

Hambleton et al on Chickenpox Party or Varicella Vaccine?

Most folks understand that. They get their kids vaccinated and have helped get chicken pox under very good control, with outbreaks of chicken pox declining over 95%.

“Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of varicella, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by varicella vaccination in the United States”

CDC on Monitoring the Impact of Varicella Vaccination

Apparently, not everyone has gotten the message though.

Remember when CPS had to investigate the mom who was having chicken pox parties in Plano, Texas a few years ago?

“On the page, parents post where they live and ask if anyone with a child who has the chicken pox would be willing to send saliva, infected lollipops or clothing through the mail.”

CBS 5 Investigates mail order diseases

Or when anti-vaccine folks were selling and mailing lollipops contaminated with chicken pox to folks so that they could skip the trouble of finding a chicken pox party?

And then there’s that time that a family served chicken pox contaminated punch at their chicken pox party. Oh wait, that was The Simpsons

Chicken pox party - The Simpsons did it.
Chicken pox party – The Simpsons did it in the Milhouse of Sand and Fog episode in Season 17.

So what are they up to now?

Folks are still advertising chicken pox parties in anti-vaccine Facebook groups.
Folks are still advertising chicken pox parties in anti-vaccine Facebook groups.

More of the same…

Does she know that the chicken pox vaccine likely decreases your risk of getting shingles later in life?
Does she know that the chicken pox vaccine likely decreases your risk of getting shingles later in life?

Apparently, there are still plenty of folks looking for chicken pox parties to infect their kids.


It is easy to see a lot of cognitive biases at play in the decision to host or bring a child to a chicken pox party, including ambiguity aversion (prefer what they think are the known risks of getting the disease), bandwagoning (they think everyone else is doing it, because in their echo chambers of anti-vaccine propaganda, everyone might), and optimism bias, etc.

There is also a very poor perception of risks, as the risks from a natural chicken pox infection are far, far greater than any risk from the vaccine.

Don't forget to tent!!!
Don’t forget to tent and share breath!!!

In bigger news, Facebook has groups who’s mission is “finding pox,” so that parents can get their kids sick!

The mission of PX Colorado is finding pox!
The mission of PX Colorado is finding pox!

How many other PoX type groups are there on Facebook?

How many other parents are intentionally not vaccinating their kids and intentionally exposing them to chicken pox?

Do any of them quarantine or isolate their kids for 10 to 21 days after the chicken pox party, so as to not expose anyone who is too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated, or has a true medical exemption to getting vaccinated, including those who are immunocompromised?

Do they understand the consequences of having these pox parties?

The latest chicken pox party hostess is apparently a nurse - at least for now...
The latest chicken pox party hostess is apparently a nurse – at least for now…

Of course, an investigation from CPS, the health department, or a medical board isn’t the most serious consequence that should discourage folks from hosting or attending a chicken pox party.

Chicken pox can be a serious, even life-threatening infection. Sure, many kids just get a mild case, but others get more serious cases and have bad complications, including skin infections, encephalitis, sepsis, or stroke.

And some people do still die from chicken pox, which is supposed to be a mild, childhood illness.

“This report describes a varicella death in an unvaccinated, previously healthy adolescent aged 15 years.”

Varicella Death of an Unvaccinated, Previously Healthy Adolescent — Ohio, 2009

Fortunately, these deaths have been nearly eliminated thanks to the chicken pox vaccine.

And that’s why parents who are on a mission for “finding pox” should rethink things and switch to a mission to get their kids vaccinated and protected.

More on Chicken Pox Parties

Vaccines – The Simpsons Did It

From chicken pox parties and conspiracies about using flu shots to control our minds to vaccine injury stories, The Simpsons did it.

The Simpsons on Vaccines and Vaccine Preventable Diseases

The Simpsons have been on the air since 1989 – just before I started medical school.

Since then, as with many other topics, they have done ahead of their time when it comes to vaccines.

Mr. X let everyone know about that flu shots were being used to control people's minds!
Mr. X let everyone know about that flu shots were being used to control people’s minds!

Consider that the episode “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” in which Homer creates a fake conspiracy website (Mr. X) and gets kidnapped by a mysterious group for stumbling upon a secret about how flu shots are given to control people’s minds, first aired on December 3, 2000. That’s long before Alex Jones and other folks started pushing these very same types of conspiracy theories about vaccines!

Jenny McCarthy appeared in The Man Who Grew Too Much episode to endorse an anti-GMO movie and make Lisa realize being against GMOs was unscientific.
Jenny McCarthy appeared in “The Man Who Grew Too Much” episode to endorse an anti-GMO movie and make Lisa realize being against GMOs was unscientific.

And the episode about chicken pox parties, “Milhouse of Sand and Fog,” came out way back on September 25, 2005. That’s before Jenny McCarthy appeared on Oprah and before Bob Sears wrote his “vaccine” book!

Vaccines – The Simpsons Did It

How many episodes of The Simpsons have mentioned vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases?

  1. An unvaccinated Lisa gets the mumps.
    An unvaccinated (the kids don’t get caught up on their shots until season 12) Lisa gets the mumps.

    “Bart’s Dog Gets an F” – sixteenth episode of Season 2 in which Lisa gets the mumps.

  2. “Lisa’s Pony” – eighth episode of Season 3 in which Homer comes up with a way to save money on luxuries – “Well, you know, we’re always buying Maggie vaccinations for diseases she doesn’t even have!”
  3. “Kamp Krusty” – first episode of Season 4 in which Lisa visits Dr. Hibbert “to get boosters for malaria, German measles, encephalitis, and Hansen’s disease” before heading to camp.
  4. “Lisa’s First Word” – tenth episode of Season 4 in which Dr. Hibbert, at Lisa’s checkup, holds up a giant needle and gives him a “rubella inoculation” when he asks for a lollipop.
  5. “Marge in Chains” – twenty-first episode of Season 4 in which a man is looking for a cure and eats a bee, thinking it is a vaccine.
  6. “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” – twenty-first episode of Season 5 in which everyone sings the Armour Hot Dogs jingle at Maggie’s first birthday party and Milhouse, with spots on his face, sings “even kids with chicken pox” love hot dogs.
  7. “Much Apu About Nothing” – twenty-third episode of Season 7 in which Cotton Mather is the first thing that Apu reads from Homer’s history notes from 9th grade.
  8. “Take My Wife, Sleaze” – eighth episode of Season 11 in which Homer and Marge go to a 1950s-themed restaurant that sell polio dogs.
  9. “Homer vs. Dignity” – fifth episode of Season 12 in which Homer, after coming into some money, is able to get his kids caught up on “six years’ worth of inoculations,” including an “anti-polio shot,” which was much bigger than the “regular” polio shot.
  10. “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” – sixth episode of Season 12 in which Ned Flanders reads a fake post from Homer on his Mr. X website about how flu shots are given as a form of mind control and he says “They’re controlling our minds with flu shots. I knew it. Well, kids, now aren’t you glad that we don’t believe in inoculations?” as his kids are shivering because they are sick and have fever. Homer is later kidnapped and taken to a secret island for revealing the conspiracy.
  11. “Bart-Mangled Banner” – twenty-first episode of Season 15 in which Lisa and Bart go see Dr. Hibbert (“Children, you should be grateful you live in a country where childhood diseases have been practically…”) to get their vaccines, but Bart escapes. Bart eventually gets his shots, but has a temporary side effect, his ‘earholes’ swell shut…
  12. “Sleeping with the Enemy” – third episode of Season 16 in which Milhouse has the measles.
  13. Free cat flu vaccinations at Springfield General Hospital!
    Free House Cat Flu vaccinations at Springfield General Hospital!

    “Milhouse of Sand and Fog” – third episode of Season 17 in which Homer has a chicken pox party for the kids in the neighborhood after Maggie gets chicken pox.

  14. “The Fool Monty” – sixth episode of Season 22 in which everyone in town waits in line to get a vaccine for the House Cat Flu.
  15. “The Town” – third episode of Season 28 in which after moving to Boston, Marge asks someone if they vaccinate their kids (“of course!”) to make sure that they are progressive, “but not stupid progressive.”

The Simpsons isn’t the first show to include messages about vaccines and vaccine-preventable in their episodes.

Remember the Brady Bunch measles episode?

Like other TV shows, they are consistently sending a message about vaccines that is helping folks understand that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

What to Know About The Simpsons and Vaccines

While some of the humor and jokes in The Simpsons are rather subtle, their message about getting vaccinated and protected against chicken pox, mumps, measles, rubella, and other vaccine preventable diseases certainly isn’t.

More on The Simpsons and Vaccines

Brady Bunch Measles Episode

Was there really a Brady Bunch episode about measles?

Measles is highly contagious, which is likely why all of the Brady kids got sick.
Measles is highly contagious, which is likely why all of the Brady kids got sick.


The Brady Bunch Measles Episode

In fact, there was an episode about how all of The Brady Bunch kids got the measles.

Is There a Doctor in the House?
All six Brady kids have the Measles at the same time, and problems arise when Carol calls in the girls’ female pediatrician while Mike brings in the boys’ male pediatrician.

Why is that a big deal?

It’s not to most people. Except that all six kids coming down with measles at the same time does help to demonstrate how contagious measles can be.

And it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t be vaccinated, after all, they had Bobby’s tiki idol to protect them, right?

Anti-vaccine folks think it is an argument for the “fact” that measles wasn’t thought of as a serious infection.

After all, if they did a TV show about it, how bad could it be?

I guess they haven’t seen all of the TV shows with episodes about smallpox…

Measles on TV Shows

Other TV shows had episodes about measles too, including Lassie, The Honeymooners, The Doris Day Show, and even Leave it to Beaver.

In a 1956 episode of The Honeymooners:

A Matter of Record
TOMMY: Hello, Mr. Kramden. Hi, Mr. Norton. Your wife told me you’d be down here. I got some bad news. Steve Austin can’t play tomorrow. He’s got the measles.

NORTON: How d’ya like that. On the eve of a big baseball game my second baseman comes down with the measles. I’m tellin’ ya, Ralph, the life of a coach ain’t all beer and skittles. Haven’t we got no substitute?

TOMMY:That’s just it. We don’t have a substitute… (to Ralph) unless you’d play for us. How about it Mr. Kramden? Do you think you could cover second base?

Not being able to play baseball isn’t the end of the world, even when it’s a big game, but it’s not nothing.

In Father Knows Best, Kathy gets measles and ‘father’ has to promise to let her build a playhouse just so she will take her medicine. And he has to eat dinner with her outside in the playhouse.

Memories of being comforted by his teddy bear Billy, which was given to him by his Aunt Martha when he was sick in bed with measles, led Beaver to chase down a garage truck to save it in the episode “Beaver’s Old Friend.”

In The Doris Day Show in 1970, “Today’s World Catches the Measles,” one of the characters is described as being listless, develops a fever, and is eventually diagnosed with measles. What happens next? His contacts are put under quarantine.

A now vaccine-preventable disease, mumps, leads two major characters to be quarantined in a 1980 episode of M*A*S*H too.

And in a 1958 episode of Lassie: “The Crisis” – Ruth finds out that Timmy has been exposed to measles at school after he and Paul leave on a long drive to buy a calf. Several of his classmates has just been diagnosed with measles and his doctor came to his house to check on him, fearing that he might be sick too.

Lassie got shot, but ended up saving the day, getting help for Timmy, after they ran out of gas taking a short cut rushing home.
Lassie got shot, but ended up saving the day, getting help for Timmy, after they ran out of gas taking a short cut rushing home.

When Paul finds out that Timmy is sick, he takes a shortcut to get home quicker, but runs out of gas, and sends Lassie for help.

The Crisis
Timmy: Dad

Paul: What is it son?

Timmy: I changed my mind about wanting the measles if it makes you feel like this.

Lassie also has to help out in the episode “The Hospital,” when Timmy gets chicken pox.

How else were vaccine-preventable diseases portrayed?

Remember Gone With The Wind and Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband? He died of measles!

And in the fifth season of Little House on the Prairie, “The Winoka Warriors,” one of the characters is blind – the result of a past measles infection.

Most of those episodes are from the pre-vaccine era though.

More recently, in 2001, the TV show ER got a media award at the first National Immunization Awareness Month because the show “portrayed the importance of vaccinations using the story of an unvaccinated child who was sent to the emergency room and subsequently died from measles. The episode effectively relayed the important messages that measles still occurs in this country, that the disease can be deadly and that it can be prevented by immunization.”

Vaccine Preventable Diseases on TV Shows

A sitcom making light of a serious issue isn’t exactly news though.

A 1944 Our Gang short comedy film had the Little Rascals scaring the town into thinking that a smallpox epidemic was coming.
A 1944 Our Gang short comedy film had the Little Rascals scaring the town into thinking that a smallpox epidemic was coming.

In the 1962 episode of Mr Ed, “Ed Gets Amnesia,” he hits his head and can’t remember Wilbur. That doesn’t mean that folks thought that head injuries and amnesia weren’t serious things, does it?

What does the episode a few years later, “Ed Gets the Mumps,” mean? In the episode, “Ed pretends to have the mumps in order to compete for attention with a neighbors’ baby who is attracting the attention of the Posts and the Kirkwoods.” If mumps wasn’t thought to be a serious infection, then why would he get any attention?

“My people were drawn to mountains, they came when the country was young and they settled in the upland country of Virginia that is still misted with a haze of blue which gives those mountains their name. They endured and they prevailed, through flood and famine, diphtheria and scarlet fever, through drought and forest fire, whooping cough and loneliness, through Indian wars, a Civil War, a World War, and through the great Depression, they endured and they prevailed. “

The Waltons “Founder’s Day”

Many other shows include story lines about vaccine preventable diseases:

  • Little Rascals “Tale of the Dog” (1944) – the gang gets the whole town scared that an epidemic is coming when they overhear Buckwheat talking to his friend Big Shot about giving smallpox to the gang. Smallpox is name they came up with for Buckwheat’s dog, because it had a lot of spots.
  • Highway Patrol “Typhoid Carrier” (1956) – after Hank Dooley’s daughter dies of typhoid fever, a worker on his farm flees with his wife because he knows that he is a typhoid carrier and the Highway Patrol goes after him.
  • Broken Arrow “Medicine Man” (1956) – an Army doctor tries to help as smallpox breaks out among the Apache.
  • The Millionaire “The Hub Grimes Story” (1957) – a professional football player with polio ends up in an iron lung.
  • Casey Jones “The Dark Rider” (1958) – Quarantined passengers leave a train as Casey transports a sailor with smallpox to a hospital.
  • The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp “Plague Carrier” (1958) – a smallpox epidemic breaks out in Dodge City.
  • Have Gun – Will Travel “Soledad Crossing” (1961) – Paladin can’t get his prisoners into Soledad because they are under quarantine for a diphtheria outbreak.
  • The Flintstones “In the Dough” (1961) – Fred and Barney have to put on wigs and dresses and pretend to be Wilma and Betty when they get measles and can’t go to the finals of a televised bake-off.
  • The Rifleman “Quite Night, Deadly Night” (1962) – the town prepares for a  outbreak as someone new arrives with symptoms of smallpox.
  • Gunsmoke “The Quest for Asa Janin” (1963) – Matt comes across a wagon and finds a baby with two adults who died of smallpox.
  • Daniel Boone “Crisis by Fire” (1966) – Daniel and his family are quarantined in their cabin during a smallpox epidemic.
  • Marcus Welby, M.D. “The Basic Moment Part 1” (1972) – Dr. Welby’s daughter is exposed to rubella and considers having an abortion.
  • Marcus Welby, M.D. “The Basic Moment Part 2” (1972) – Dr. Welby’s daughter delivers a baby with congenital rubella syndrome .
  • The Waltons “An Easter Story” (1972) – Olivia gets polio.
  • Little House on the Prairie “Days of Sunshine, Days of Shadow” (1982) – Almanzo has a severe stroke while recovering from diphtheria.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks “Car Sick” (1984) – Dave and the Chipmunks get measles.
  • Full House “A Pox in Our House” (1988) – Stephanie spreads chicken pox to Jesse and Joey, who weren’t immune, as they had thought.
  • Parenthood “The Plague” (1990) – the kids get chicken pox.
  • Life Goes On “Chicken Pox” (1990) – Becca gets chicken pox.
  • Home Improvement “Roomie for Improvement” (1992) – When Mark gets chicken pox, Tim has to leave the house, because he has never had them (and the vaccine hasn’t come out yet).
  • Friends “The One with the Chicken Pox” (1996) – Phoebe is quarantined after catching chicken pox from Ben.
  • South Park “Chicken Pox” (1998) – The kids have a sleepover at Kenny’s house because he has chicken pox.
  • ER “Lockdown” (2002) – Everyone in the ER is quarantined as they think two patients have smallpox.
  • Grey’s Anatomy “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” (2010) – Callie gets chicken pox. (Callie getting the chicken pox and being isolated and itchy is stolen from Shonda’s life. She told us this hilarious story of being quarantined in college with chicken pox and almost losing her mind. Be careful what you say in the writer’s room cause it will end up on TV … )

Not surprisingly, many more TV shows about vaccine-preventable diseases also talk about vaccines, including more than a few episodes of The Simpsons.

What to Know About the Brady Bunch Measles Episode

That there was a Brady Bunch measles episode doesn’t mean that people didn’t think that measles was a serious or deadly disease.

More on the Brady Bunch Measles Episode: