Before the chickenpox vaccine, some people held “pox parties” to enable their children to build immunity. Some people still hold chickenpox parties, but this can be risky.

Before the chickenpox vaccine, many people used pox parties as a way to infect their children with the virus. The idea was to enable them to build immunity before reaching adulthood, when the symptoms of the infection can be more severe.

Some people continue to hold pox parties as an alternative to receiving the vaccine.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn against this practice, saying that chickenpox can have severe and sometimes life threatening consequences. Instead, they recommend vaccination as a safe way to develop immunity to chickenpox.

This article will discuss chickenpox, some reasons why people might have pox parties, and the risks that these parties entail. It will also discuss chickenpox vaccination.

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People can develop chickenpox after having exposure to the varicella-zoster virus. It generally affects children and is usually a mild illness.

Chickenpox usually occurs only once. After contracting the virus, a person will have lifetime immunity to it.

However, if it affects an adult who does not have immunity to it, it can be more serious. It can also have a severe impact on newborns and children with other health issues.

Also, the virus can remain in the body in an inactive, or dormant, form. Later in life, it can reactivate to cause a painful condition called shingles.

For this reason, it is a good idea to gain immunity from a young age and in a controlled manner.

Some people use pox parties as a way to deliberately infect their children with chickenpox. The idea is that the child gets the illness sooner rather than later and builds up a natural immunity to the virus.

During a pox party, parents or caregivers encourage children without the virus to play, eat, and interact with a child who currently has chickenpox. This close contact makes it much more likely that the other children will catch chickenpox.

In the past, this was a popular way of enabling a child to build immunity. However, compared with the effective vaccine that is now available, pox parties can be risky.

Chickenpox results from infection with the varicella-zoster virus.

The telltale symptom is a red, itchy, and bumpy rash. The bumps turn into fluid-filled blisters, which then crust over and form scabs. The rash can spread to all parts of the body.

Some other chickenpox symptoms include:

According to the CDC, the illness typically lasts for around 4–7 days.

Chickenpox is highly contagious until all of the bumps and blisters have burst and scabbed over. It spreads through contact with bodily fluids, such as blister fluid and saliva. The virus can also spread through coughing and sneezing.

Some people who have not had the infection before may experience more severe symptoms and complications. These people include:

  • newborns and infants
  • adolescents
  • individuals with weakened immune systems due to certain illnesses or medications
  • pregnant people
  • adults

Complications of chickenpox can include:

Children and adults who are at risk of chickenpox complications should take measures to avoid the virus that causes it and ask their doctor if a vaccine is suitable for them.

Catching chickenpox once or getting a vaccine against the virus that causes it makes most healthy people immune to it for life.

Some children who receive the vaccine may still get the illness, but the symptoms tend to be milder, causing fewer blisters.

Children who catch chickenpox at a pox party will usually experience the full illness. Also, although it is rare in healthy children, there is still a risk of complications after catching the virus.

In more severe cases, a child’s symptoms may require them to go to the hospital. On rare occasions, chickenpox can be fatal in otherwise healthy children and adults.

The medical community considers vaccination to be the safest way to prevent chickenpox and its potential complications.

The chickenpox vaccine uses a weakened version of the virus to build up the person’s immunity to the actual virus. The CDC recommend receiving two doses of the chickenpox vaccine, as this amount is over 90% effective in protecting the person against the infection.

Doctors usually administer the first dose of the vaccine at 12–15 months and the second dose at 4–6 years.

Children aged 7–12 years who do not have evidence of immunity should receive two doses, preferably with an interval of 3 months between them, though a 4-week gap may be sufficient.

The CDC also recommend that children who are over the age of 13 years and have never had chickenpox should receive two doses of the vaccine with at least 28 days between them.

The vaccination may cause some side effects, including:

  • fever
  • a mild rash
  • temporary pain and stiffness in the joints
  • soreness at the injection site

In rare cases, more severe side effects may occur, including:

Very rarely, people who receive the chickenpox vaccination can pass on the vaccine version of the virus to other people.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection that commonly affects children. The body builds up immunity to the virus, so most people only experience chickenpox once in their lifetime.

In otherwise healthy children, chickenpox symptoms are generally mild and will clear up within a week or so. However, some people develop complications, either while they have the infection or later in life.

The safest way to prevent infection with chickenpox is to receive a vaccination.

What are some myths and facts about vaccination? Find out here.