Tag: varicella zoster immune globulin

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.

Why?

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

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Shingles

Pediatricians often get calls from worried parents because their kids have been exposed to someone with shingles.

Would you know what to do?

Shingles and Chicken Pox

Shingles is definitely contagious.

“A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer infectious.”

CDC on Shingles Transmission

Herpes zoster was described as early as 1867, as can be seen in the lithograph from the Atlas der Hautkranheiten, although the connection with chickenpox didn't come until later.
Herpes zoster (HZ) was described as early as 1867, as can be seen in the lithograph from the Atlas der Hautkranheiten, although the connection with chickenpox didn’t come until later.

Not surprisingly, the biggest factor that will determine what needs to be done is whether or not your child is immune to chicken pox (primary varicella). Has your child ever had a natural chicken pox infection or completed a two dose chicken pox vaccine series?

Chicken pox vaccine?

Yes, because while shingles is contagious, you won’t get shingles if you are exposed to someone with shingles, but you can get chicken pox.

Remember, shingles is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which also causes chicken pox. After a natural chicken pox infection, or less commonly after having the chicken pox vaccine, the chicken pox virus can stay dormant in the dorsal root ganglia of a spinal nerve. And you get shingles if the virus ever reactivates.

The type of exposure also matters.

Shingles is usually thought to be less contagious than chicken pox and requires direct contact with the rash, while it is in the blister phase, to spread disease. You shouldn’t catch the virus by simply being in the same room as someone with shingles. So if their shingles rash was completely covered by clothing, that decreases the chance of any real exposure.

“Not only was the risk of secondary infection with HZ comparable to that of primary varicella, the risk was similar regardless of the anatomic location of HZ. This finding contradicts the assumption that coverage of active skin lesions with dressings or clothing reduces VZV aerosolization and, if substantiated through further investigation, may warrant a change in current recommendations for VZV prevention.”

Bloch et al on Varicella Zoster Virus Transmission in the Vaccine Era: Unmasking the Role of Herpes Zoster

Covering the shingles rash doesn’t eliminate the risk of exposure though.

Another problem is that it isn’t always easy to recognize that someone has shingles, especially when younger children or teens have it.

“Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However, the risk of shingles increases as you get older.”

CDC on Shingles Clinical Overview

After all, no one expects an infant or toddler to have shingles, but it is important to remember that you can get shingles at any age, it is just more common the older you get.

Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant.
Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant. Photo by Kaoutar Zinelabidine et al.

And since it is often less severe in children and younger adults, who get a lot of rashes anyway, shingles isn’t usually the first thing a parent or many pediatricians will think of as a diagnosis.

That increases the risk of exposure before a diagnosis of shingles is finally made.

What to Do If Your Unvaccinated Child Is Exposed to Shingles

If your unvaccinated child, or incompletely vaccinated child, who has never had chicken pox is exposed to shingles, you should talk to your pediatrician about getting him vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine. The vaccine should be given as soon as possible and preferably within 3 days of the exposure, but it can work even if it is given as long as 5 days afterwards.

“Vaccination within 3 days of exposure to rash was >90% effective in preventing varicella whereas vaccination within 5 days of exposure to rash was approximately 70% effective in preventing varicella and 100% effective in modifying severe disease.”

ACIP on Prevention of Varicella

This post-exposure vaccination can greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing chicken pox and even if your child does develop chicken pox, it will reduce the severity of the disease.

Otherwise, you should watch your child carefully over the next 10 to 21 days for the development of the classic symptoms of chicken pox, including a rash and fever, keeping him quarantined until after this incubation period so that you don’t expose others.

Certain high risk children who aren’t immune and who can’t get a chicken pox vaccine should get VariZIG (varicella zoster immune globulin) after being exposed to shingles (or chicken pox). This includes:

  • immunocompromised patients
  • hospitalized premature infants born at or after 28 weeks gestation, if their mother wasn’t immune to chicken pox
  • hospitalized premature infants born before 28 weeks gestation, even if their mother was immune to chicken pox
  • pregnant women who are not immune to chicken pox

VariZIG is given as soon as possible and within 10 days of exposure.

What to Do If Your Vaccinated Child Is Exposed to Shingles

If your child has already had chicken pox or two doses of the chicken pox vaccine, then you can likely safely assume that he is protected if he is ever exposed to shingles.

Still, since no vaccine is 100% effective, you should watch him over the next 10 to 21 days in case he does develop any signs or symptoms of chicken pox.

And keep the shingles rash covered to prevent further exposure.

What to Know About Getting Exposed to Shingles

Shingles is contagious and can cause someone to develop chicken pox if they haven’t already had it or aren’t vaccinated and protected.

More on Getting Exposed to Shingles