Chicken pox parties: Would you let your child lick a lolly infected with a sick stranger's spit?
I had never heard of a Pox Party until that invitation the other week, but they're happening up and down the country every week of the year.
But in the States, the desire to catch the disease has reached hysterical levels. According to reports on WSMV TV, one woman from Nashville is selling lollipops, dummies and cotton buds by mail order that have been licked or sucked by - or inserted into – the pox-infected offspring of Wendy Werkit. And parents are snapping them up at $50 a time!
"They can't get (chicken pox) the normal way any more of just naturally catching and just naturally getting the immunity for life," said the unorthodox parent pox entrepreneur on Facebook.
Police are now investigating whether any laws have been broken but have issued a warning to parents thinking of infecting their children with lollies licked by a stranger's kids. (I know, beggars belief, doesn't it?)
"Can you imagine getting a package in the mail from this complete stranger that you know from Facebook because you joined a group, and say here, drink this purported spit from some other kid?" Jerry Martin, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, told The Associated Press.
Isaac Thomsen, a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases, said the lollipops could carry much more dangerous viruses than chicken pox, including hepatitis. And even if they didn't there was little chance the CP virus would survive long enough on the sweets to infect anyone once the postman has delivered the package.
Ms Werkin is clearly someone with an eye for an opportunity, but she couldn't have seized it unless she thought there was a market to seize. And it strikes me that the Chicken Pox Party Parents are quite a demographic. In the States, Ms Werkin posted her lollipops ads on a Facebook group called Find a Pox Party in your Area.
Now, parents have long been obsessed with chicken pox. I remember my mother almost beside herself with delight when my three brothers and I – separated by a total of five years – all succumbed when I was around eight years old.
Her thinking was: "It's out of the way now. My boys are immune for life."
But would I knowingly infect my youngest – who, touch wood, has never had a day's illness in his life - with a a disease which, although common, can be extremely distressing, causing red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters, which eventually scab over and drop off?
According to NHS Choices: "Some children have only a few spots, but in others they can cover the entire body. The spots are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and stomach and on the arms and legs."
I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, let alone my four year-old son.
In fact, until writing this article, I was blissfully ignorant of much more distressing for my son chicken pox could be for him in later life.
More than 90 per cent of adults are immune to CP because they experienced it as a child when they were less than 10 years old. I've had it, my wife's had it, our two older children have had it.
But if you become infected at an older age, the more dangerous the virus becomes.
"Chickenpox tends to be more severe in adults than children, and adults have a higher risk of developing complications," says NHS Choices.
Anecdotally, there is no question that this is true. I did a straw poll of parent Tweeters and bloggers and the overwhelming majority described the distress caused by chicken pox in later life. When I asked my followers whether I should take my four year-old to a pox party, 90 per cent said yes.
Here is a sample of replies:
"Son had chickpox at 4yr, neighbours sent kids over. Horrible to get at older age. Bro-in-law got at 25 - awful"
"I had chickenpox at 19. It was horrendous and 'everywhere'. Weeing hurt like hell"
"I took my son to a party. Nightmare 4 days but worth it (he's 18 now). Bicarb in the bath does wonders so does Piriton. Get it over with"
"Go for it! Better soon than later. Rub him all over anyone with active pox!"
Writer and work from home mum-of-one Laura Kemp, 37, said: "I had chicken pox in my early 20s and it was much more severe than when my son had it at the age of two-and-a-bit. His symptoms were mild compared to mine - he could still move around and play whereas I was strapped into my bed for two weeks, off work, exhausted and suffered fatigue for weeks afterwards. In terms of the spots, I was covered - I had them everywhere and I mean everywhere!
I was Hoovering for weeks post-pox because I kept finding scabs all round the house! I also still have scars on my face from the spots, which is obviously a vanity issue, but my son's scars are few and far between.
"I would definitely take kids to pox parties because having it as an adult is very disruptive. I was off work for a fortnight. My son was poorly for a few days and then bounced back."
Despite this swell of evidence in support of pox parties, I'm still not convinced that deliberately infecting your child – or having your child deliberately infect others – is the great evolutionary step forward we parents have ever taken.
Chicken pox attacks the immune system – so what if your child is under the weather and unable to cope with fighting, for example, a cold and the chicken pox virus? What if kids at a pox party have conditions that make them more vulnerable to complications?
One Tweeter wrote: "My friend went to a c/p party and her daughter ended up in hospital. Chicken pox can be v v nasty"
If you are thinking of taking your child to a chicken pox party, William Schaffer, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases in the US, says parents should think long and hard about the following points before they do:
"First, there is the worst-case scenario. I am sure these well intended mothers are not aware of chicken pox encephalitis or chickenpox pneumonia. Those are the worst features of chicken pox, and you cannot predict who will get those awful infections," he said.
"The second thing is chicken pox is a communicable disease. If you infect your child with chicken pox, that child can spread it to others. So you are putting other people in your community - playmates, schoolmates, someone in the mall – at risk of chicken pox.
"Increasingly among us are people who are too ill, too frail, who are immune compromised, who have cancer, or other diseases. If your child spreads chicken pox to them, they can literally become gravely ill. It can be mortally fatal.
"By creating an infection in your child, you put others at risk. That is irresponsible and selfish. All of these things pertain to chicken pox parties. And every paediatrician in the country will tell you it is a bad idea. You cannot predict who is going to get very serious infections."
What do you think?
What lengths would you go to to give your child chicken pox before the age of 10?