Image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevenetion
Parents who don't want to give their children the chickenpox vaccine are choosing instead to buy mail-order lollipops already sucked on by sick kids.
They hope their child will get chickenpox and then develop a natural immunity.
CNN affiliate KPHO in Phoenix found a Facebook website called "Find a Pox Party in Your Area," which included postings of parents willing to ship infected items across the country.
WATCH FIRST COAST NEWS AT 5 FOR MORE ON "POX PARTIES"
"Fresh batch of Pox in Nashville Tennessee. Shipping of suckers, spit, and Q-tips available tomorrow. $50 via PayPal," reads one post. It goes on to explain the money covers overnight shipping.
Parents allow children whose chickenpox is contagious to infect the item before packing and shipping it to parents elsewhere in the country. Those parents then give the items to their children in the hopes they will come down with chickenpox.
"Our round was FedEx'd fromArizona!" reads one Facebook post quoted by KPHO. "We've spread cooties to Cookeville, Knoxville and Louisiana."
The website, which had about 1,000 Facebook likes, has now been removed. Archived versions of the site show its purpose listed as "a group for parents who want their children to obtain natural immunity for the chicken pox."
Sending the saliva, lollipops, or other material could pose other health risks as well. "You are sending out other germs, other bacteria, and you have no idea what is in them" says Dr. Bill Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. It's not even clear it will work. "It is not a good way to transmit chickenpox" he says. "Typically somebody breathes out the virus and then somebody else breaths it in."
The chickenpox (or varicella) vaccine became available in the United States in 1995. Nearly 6% of parents don't vaccinate their children with it as recommended, according to a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics.
Side effects of the vaccine include soreness or swelling where the shot was given, a fever in one in 10 people, and a rash in one out of 25. Seizure and pneumonia are also possible, but the CDC says they are "very rare" adding "getting chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting chickenpox disease."
Before the vaccine, chickenpox caused more than 10,000 hospitalizations in an average year in the U.S., and between 1990 and 1994 about 50 children and 50 adults died each year according to the CDC. The majority were in previously healthy individuals.
"What is obviously going on is we have some mothers who are trying to be imaginative and are vaccine skeptics," says Schaffner. He says this is a new variation of the chickenpox party, where parents would allow healthy children to play with infected ones to get the virus. "Chickenpox parties are really bad ideas," he says. "There is not a pediatrician in the country that would recommend this."
KPHO also found a few comments where parents were looking to have their children infected with measles mumps and rubella. Those diseases could be even more dangerous.
What these parents are doing violates federal law according to Jerry Martin, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. "Sending a virus or disease through the U.S. mail is illegal," he says. "Also, it is against federal law to adulterate or tamper with consumer products, such as candy. Finally, it is illegal to introduce into interstate commerce unauthorized biological materials."
Policy prevents him from saying whether his office is investigating parents who sent the lollipops and other items.