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Forget Chuck E. Cheese-Throw Your Kid a "Swine Flu Party"

Conventional wisdom says it is better for children to contract such diseases as chicken pox and measles when they are young, to avoid complications if they get it as adults. As a result, in decades past, many mothers brought their children to so called "chicken pox parties" to expose their children to others with the disease. It's a practice hardly used today. Well, it may be making a comeback. But getting chicken pox is not the prime objective -- it's catching the potentially fatal swine flu.

There's been talk on Internet forums that exposing children to swine flu, or H1N1, while it is still relatively mild will give children immunity if it somehow morphs into a more serious strain. But before you go out and buy balloons for your party, the experts have one word of advice for you -- "DON'T."

Last month, Richard Besser, acting head of the Centers for Disease Control, warned people against deliberately exposing themselves to the virus. And now CNN reports that Dr Richard Jarvis, chairman of the British Medical Association public health committee, said at a recent conference:

"I have heard of reports of people throwing swine flu parties. I don't think it is a good idea. I would not want it myself. It is quite a mild virus, but people still get ill and there is a risk of mortality."

And Justine Roberts, the founder of a parenting website called mumsnet told BBC Radio4 that some people have been discussing the idea:

"We have heard of people saying 'can we come round to your house when you get it?' There's definitely a prevailing view that it might be better to get it now and some people are not despairing if there is a case in their school."

Now, there's no evidence that any of these parties have actually been held. But just talk of them is enough for concern.

People who believe in these parties have some science backing them up. Researchers at George Washington University in Washington D.C. have studied the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and found that in areas where there were more cases during the first wave of Spanish flu, there were fewer deaths during its second wave. The suggestion is that exposure to the first wave of the flu gave immunity in its second wave.

But H1N1 is still very much unknown. Experts warn that little is known about the virus and that actively encouraging its spread could risk the health of those who are most vulnerable, including the elderly and people with existing health problems.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization show there have now been 311 confirmed deaths around the world from the H1N1 virus, and about 70,000 infections in 113 countries.


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