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Have I Got Chickenpox For You?

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Onthe eve of graduation I turned on Have I Got Old News For You on BBC2, on whichthe topic of chicken pox lollipops set Ian Hislop off with jokes about ‘leprosysleepovers'. Disgusted at this story, I delved deeper.

Thestory covers an American woman who had been selling lollipops licked bychildren with chicken pox to parents who wanted their children to contract thedisease at an early age. Only in America? Let's hope so. A quick Google searcheven turned up a Wikipedia page on ‘pox parties', a practice that was popularduring the 1980s before the development of the varicella zoster vaccine toimmunise against chicken pox. Social networking websites are currently being usedby people to communicate with others, such as through groups like ‘Find a poxparty in your area'.

Chickenpox is generally known to affect children relatively mildly with a rash andfever, compared to in adults where it manifests as shingles. What is oftenoverlooked is the array of devastating complications that can afflict infectedindividuals, including neurological and respiratory problems. Because of the severity of the disease in old age and the fact that some parents refuse the childhood vaccinations for fear of inadequate immunity or vaccine side effects, one can see the logicin such practices. Similar procedures have carried out in the past, most notablyperhaps by Edward Jenner, pioneer of the smallpox vaccine, who found thatinfecting with cowpox immunised an individual against the deadly smallpox.However, this was at a time when smallpox was amongst the most deadly diseasesin the world and no vaccination existed.

Doctorsand the US Government last year warned parents against this horrific procedure.As well as it being illegal to send biological material through the U.S. PostalService, it is impractical. The germ is spread through the coughs or sneezes ofpatients generally and so would probably not be effective in the form of alollipop. Additionally, the number of viable organisms left after beingtransported to the recipient is likely to be quite low, and there is a risk ofother organisms that could survive on such surfaces such as hepatitis beingtransported instead.

What was not touched upon by officials from what I've seen though was the possibility of abuse of the system. Could ablack market evolve, where people sell "fake" chickenpox lollies, i.e. lolliesnot infected with chickenpox, for the price of an infected one? Could the practice leadto a form of bioterrorism?

Again, this is a case of lack of knowledge of the dangers of such practices and the fact that the vaccine is a lot safer. Let's hope this practice fizzles out sooner ratherthan later.

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