Chickenpox parties--just a Facebook friend away

I've written a few times about chickenpox parties. The first link refers to a magazine article describing the practice; the second, a few years later, about a Craigslist ad looking to hold such a party "at McDonald [sic] or some place with toys to play on."

Clearly, as chickenpox cases have become more rare in recent decades due to the success of the chickenpox vaccine, moving toward social media to find infections is the way to go. It allows people to find such cases and expose their immunologically naive children to a serious virus, just as easily as googling Jenny McCarthy Body Count." But now, it's gone even farther, with parents on this Facebook page hooking up to not only find cases/parties, but also to ship contaminated samples through the mail:

Shipping any kind of microbial specimen is a huge pain in the rear, specifically because they have the potential to cause harm. Myself and any employees who do this shipping have to be specially trained, and we have to use a number of specialized shipping containers to mail samples, and take precautions to prevent any leakage etc. out of the packages. Yale has a nice overview of shipping specimens at the link--54 pages long. We also have to apply for permits to ship many of these organisms. Now, Varicella zoster (chickenpox) isn't on their list as far as "select agents," but secretions from a person thought to have or diagnosed with chickenpox would be considered a category B agent (moderate risk of harm):

Biological substances, such as diagnostic or clinical specimens from humans or animals that are known to harbor a pathogen or have a high probability of containing a pathogen.

How should you package these?

Triple packaging. Must pass a 1.8 meter or 4 foot drop test. Packages shipped by air must meet a 95 kPa or 14 psi pressure test of primary or secondary container.

You can see pages 10-11 of the pdf for more instructions. This isn't as easy-peasy as "stick it in a Ziploc baggie." These people are putting a dangerous substance in the mail with the possibility (remote, but there) of making people sick. What if your mail carrier had never had the chickenpox or the vaccine? What if s/he is immunocompromised in some way? These people are taking all the dangers of their "chickenpox parties" and putting them in the mail system. Thank you, Andrew Wakefield and Barbara Loe Fisher.

Now, to be generous, their information page has been changed since the story came out to note "ABSOLUTELY NO SENDING VIRUSES THROUGH THE MAIL. This will not be tolerated and will be deleted immediately. Local only." However, c'mon--people still have messaging on Facebook and I doubt that's really going to stop the determined ones. These people simply don't care about anyone but themselves and are in denial about the fact that chickenpox can kill--the one woman who received samples didn't even know the name of the person they were from. This is so many levels of irresponsible I don't even know where to begin.

Finally, not surprisingly, they're deleting any comments that run counter to their propaganda. I replied to a few comments noting that the link between chickenpox and subsequent Streptococcal infection, for example, and it was gone within 20 minutes. I also noted that both my grandmother (shingles which led to pneumonia) and an uncle I never knew (primary chickenpox followed by pneumonia when he was only a year old) died from Varicella infection. The virus isn't a joke, and those of us who had it, like me, are at a much higher risk of developing complications via reactivation (such as shingles) than those who obtained immunity via the vaccine. I wish the vaccine had been available when I was a kid, and I am frustrated as hell that these types of "parties" still exist in the vaccine era.

[Update: at least in Tennessee, a US prosecutor is warning that these types of mailings are illegal].

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I reported the page, the least I could do. Maybe other prominent vaccine proponents could take note and also report the page.

I also appreciate the details on the regulations concerning shipping viruses, etc. I've been appalled at that page since I first came across it months ago.

1.8 meters is 5.9 ft. Do you really get to choose either the 1.8 m or 4 ft drop test? Is this some kind of anti-metric prejudice?


It's not stupidity at all. We autistic people and our mothers have stronger than average immune systems.

We want these diseases out there to reduce the population so that there are more resources left for us.

Just like going to war over oil using biological weapons - it's no different.

If we could, we'd control the population by eating you, but some kill-joys have banned it, even though it's the only sensible method of population control.

In case you didn't know, the human race can increase it's population at a maximum rate of 3 or 4%

At that rate of production, assuming 1 per month (we don't eat the bones unless we have to - fe, fi, fo, fum...) it would only take ONE PERCENT of the population switching to cannibalism to be able to absorb this excess.

Any Questions?

This is straight up bioterrorism--people are spreading infectious diseases on purpose through the MAIL?!? Homeland security needs to get on this ASAP.

I agree, but I bet it will make a difference in that it's not a pure culture like with anthrax etc. Even for us, we have to use different shipping packages for pure Staph cultures versus diagnostic samples (eg swabs from noses or possible infections) that *may* contain Staph. I bet that even if anyone ends up getting prosecuted, they'll get off on that loophole.

I agree that it is crazy and irresponsible, but not necessarily illegal to send potentially virus-laden secretions through the mail, or at least through a shipping service. Diagnostic samples are sent this way all the time. Triple-layer packaging and the 95 kPa regulations can be met really pretty easily, and then as long as you actually label the parcel "Biological Substance: Category B /UN3373", it does not endanger the handlers any more than all the other UN3373 packages.

Shawmutt, #2, you should have instead notified the FBI of bioterrorism that was ongoing.
Can you imagine what a headache it would be to try to track any epidemic caused by contaminated postal mail? It's a nightmare!
These people should be detained at GITMO, with their fellow terrorists!
I met one of these idiots once, who gushed about having infection parties. She even hinted about happily involuntarily exposing people.
I informed her, should she do that to anyone in my family, especially my aged father or grandchild, she'd quickly find out EXACTLY what I did in the Army in Afghanistan and for the brief amount of time she'd be able to comprehend what I was doing, she'd hate it.

I'd never heard of this before. Chickenpox parties? sending contaminated samples by regular mail? This is so idiotic I am at a loss for words. I am stunned speechless. I really don't know what to say. Where on Earth do these idiots come from? what on Earth are they thinking?

I mean, I just don't get it. I don't understand 1) what on Earth possessed them to send these by mail and 2) why they thought this was a superior alternative to vaccinating their children against the same damn disease. I mean, I can understand chickenpox parties twenty years ago when we didn't have a vaccine against chickenpox. But now we do; so why would they rather -- I just don't get it.

By Mutant Dragon (not verified) on 05 Nov 2011 #permalink

Facebook pulled the page. Someone else started a new one by the same name, seeking people to have chickenpox parties.
Apparently, they prefer live, unattenuated exposure over live, attenuated virus.
Gee, are they going to hold polio parties next?

Thisbe--yes, but what are the odds that they are actually using these packaging methods? The one woman in the video mentioned a Ziploc--that's it. And if they truly believe the fantasy chickenpox is utterly harmless, what motivation do they have to protect others?

1) Infection Party participants should be prosecuted for child abuse, Party promoters & hosts for conspiracy to commit child abuse.

2) Knowingly mailing infectious agents/epidemic hazards via US Mail without authorization is serious felony (using interstate commerce). It should be prosecuted by Homeland Security as domestic terrorism.

Irrational beliefs are NO excuse for harming children and endangering the entire population (unless one is religious, then it is acceptable in the US to put everyone else at risk & use taxpayer dollars to clean up your tax-exempt messes).

By David Galiel (not verified) on 05 Nov 2011 #permalink

Sorry, "using interstate commerce" should have said, "transporting across state lines". No money is changing hands, but sending contagions across state lines does put this in Federal jurisdiction.

Freedom is *not* absolute. Reasonable limits to ensure that your freedom to act does not harm my freedom to be safe is an essential part of orderly society.

This should not just be dealt with with a pat on the back and amusement by law officials about the cluelessness of antivax parents.

This should be dealt with in the same way as any other conspiracy to commit a federal crime.

By David Galiel (not verified) on 05 Nov 2011 #permalink

At least one woman was offering to send infected lollipops for $50, so this is an interstate commerce crime as well as conspiracy to commit bioterrorism.

By David Galiel (not verified) on 05 Nov 2011 #permalink

In that case it should be a crime to sell anything that is biological in origin and harmful.

Alcohol is responsible for a massive 5% of global medical costs. How much is the chicken pox menace costing us?

If you're allowed to sell alcohol poison then you should be allowed to sell chicken pox poison or it just isn't fair!

Gluten-free please :)

By Autism Insider (not verified) on 06 Nov 2011 #permalink

I will admit that I agree that exposing children to an infection is wrong. There is irony in that I see folks who are holding chickenpox parties in roughly the same light as I see anti-vaxxers. Having said that, the big issue here is that in the case of bio-terrorism there is an intention to actively expose the unknowing and unwilling to a biological agent to cause harm. Even the example of alcohol is flawed in that it is used by those generally capable of giving an informed consent to imbibe. If done as part of a family or religious tradition, it is done in small quantities. In this case, the parents are making an informed decision to expose their child to an infectious agent under the belief that it actually helps the child. An analogy with alcohol might be that rather than teaching children to have a glass of wine/beer with dinner it is okay to drink to the point of blackout. To those who might miss the point: a chicken pox vaccination is the equivalent of a small but healthy and manageable dose, while simply exposing a child to an uncontrolled virus greatly increases the chance for harm. I'm concerned now, but, I'll get really concerned if I hear of tetanus or rabies parties.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 06 Nov 2011 #permalink

Have the party at the doctor's office. :-) It has all the advantages with the extra bonus of most likely not getting sick.

I can sort of understand why a parent might fear an x vaccine if they fear it might give their kid x even if I know it is uninformed. But if they are going to intentionally give them x, then why not just do it in vaccine form and make the actual sickness much less likely?

By Childermass (not verified) on 06 Nov 2011 #permalink

Thanks for posting this, I always look forward to your posts, just wish you made more of them!

Childermass, it's simple, really. Getting x from another kid is after all natural, while vaccines are artificial, and natural equals good, eh?
Another thing - if you get chickenpox as an adult, it will be probably worse. I had it when I was 21, it was three weeks of nightmare and my face will never look the same again. In a way I wish I'd had it when I was a small child - but better still, that a vaccine had been available in my time. And those parents also believe that they are doing it for their children's good - vaccines are bad, chickenpox in adults is bad, let's have it over when they are still small.
(Sorry if I'm not very clear on some points, English is my second language)

Alia, you have my heartfelt sympathy. I had a shingles outbreak in my 20s, and it was, as you say, indescribably awful -- an excruciatingly tender spot that both burns and itches at the same time, so that it is agony not to scratch but blindingly painful even to touch. In my case, the outbreak was a recurrence of the chickenpox I'd had as a child. There was no chickenpox vaccine back then, but if there had been, and I learned later that my mother had refused it but chose instead to expose me to the disease, well -- I love my mom, but we would have a seriously intense discussion.

No son, you can't go around collecting candy on Halloween. Some wacko might poison your candy. Here have this used lollipop instead, sent in the mail by some stranger.

I don't know if it was you or Orac or another blog, but this made the evening news in Kansas City last night.

I think pages like that should stay up! Less research on the less threatening diseases would be nice too. The human population is getting to be absolutely ridiculous, we're living 4 times our life span if we didn't have all these pills and vaccines and such. Just let it go, let us start dying off. If a dog dies from some disease it's not a huge thing. If a human does, all hell breaks loose. One of the key things different between humans and other animals? We have emotions. Like, extreme emotions. Tie that with the ability to very clearly communicate and bam- suddenly something like death that's so natural and going to happen, is a big thing that we need to 'avoid'. Just let it go, let us die off a bit, chill out.

These people are sick! Why in the world would u want your children to be at risk in developing painful shingles in later life? Neither my sister or myself have ever contracted chicken pox and dont agree that you should be purposely spreading disease to innocent victims. You wierdos should be arrested for endangering the health of monors.

By Sue Rosenorn (not verified) on 30 Nov 2011 #permalink

It is indeed correct that chicken pox is a dangerous illness. Please learn how to treat chickenpox today and we are you very sure that your life will be in a better state. chicken pox may not be deadly, but it sure causes alot of complications.

I do agree that it is better for your child to have chickenpox early. Chickenpox in adults is difficult to go through.