What Is a Pox Party?

Amanda R. Bell

A pox party is a get-together organized by parents or caregivers to infect the children in their care with the varicella virus, more commonly known as chicken pox. Children are told to pass around items that have been in their mouths and to trade pajamas in an effort to contract the disease to build their immunity to it later in life when chicken pox can be deadly. This is typically done because parents or caregivers believe that the vaccine for varicella is unsafe, although this practice of organizing pox parties is not advised by the majority of medical professionals. Although many believe that contracting chicken pox as a child is safe, it can have serious side effects both at the time of infection and later in life.

It's better for children to get chickenpox at a young age so they can become immune from it, which is why parents may organize a pox party.
It's better for children to get chickenpox at a young age so they can become immune from it, which is why parents may organize a pox party.

When a child naturally becomes sick with chicken pox, a pox party is organized by the parent or caregiver of that child and activities are planned to pass around the disease. Healthy children are brought together with the sick child in a closed environment, with the intention of the healthy children catching the virus from the child with the chicken pox. Kids may pass around the same candy sucker, eat ice cream with the same spoon, or play with the same whistle. As chicken pox is highly contagious, especially through saliva, the sick child will generally pass on the varicella virus to the other children. Another common activity at a pox party is sharing pajamas: the sores that accompany chicken pox are also contagious, and therefore a healthy child that wears the sick child’s pajamas after him or her could also contract the disease.

A girl with chickenpox.
A girl with chickenpox.

The primary purpose of a pox party is for children to obtain the disease at a young age in order for their bodies to build up a natural immunity without getting the vaccine. Parents and caregivers typically opt for holding a pox party rather than giving their child the standard vaccine because they believe that the vaccine is either not safe, not effective, or both. Despite this, the vast majority of medical professionals disagree. The vaccine for varicella is considered to be one of the safest available, with very limited side effects, and it is estimated to protect 85% of children from chicken pox and shingles without ever having to go through the ordeal of fighting the actual virus as of 2005.

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Children with chicken pox will develop flu-like symptoms a few days before getting chicken pox blisters.
Children with chicken pox will develop flu-like symptoms a few days before getting chicken pox blisters.

In addition to views against the vaccine, chicken pox is also often seen as a minor disease, which is generally why parents and caregivers believe that it is safe to hold a pox party. While many children make it safely through chicken pox, this is not true for all. Pneumonia is a relatively common complication, and the pox marks can become infected, leading to other health issues. In addition to this, the varicella virus can result in an infection in the brain, which can cause permanent damage or even death. By choosing the pox party over the vaccination, children are also put at risk for shingles in adulthood, which can be incredibly painful and brings its own list of complications.

Parents expose their children to a child with the chicken pox during a pox party.
Parents expose their children to a child with the chicken pox during a pox party.
Chicken pox vaccinations.
Chicken pox vaccinations.
Children who contract chicken pox are more likely to develop shingles in adulthood.
Children who contract chicken pox are more likely to develop shingles in adulthood.

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