California: 'Measles Parties' Are Downright Dangerous

Health officials say intentionally exposing kids to disease is unwise
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2015 12:34 PM CST
California: 'Measles Parties' Are Downright Dangerous
Measles parties aren't advisable, health officials say.   (Shutterstock)

Are "measles parties"—where parents purposely expose unvaccinated kids to infected ones to build up immunity—a good idea? Some parents say yes, but California public health officials say absolutely not, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to a KQED blog post, Marin County mom Julie Schiffman received an invite from another mom to expose Schiffman's two unvaccinated kids to an infected child—she reportedly declined. The underlying reasoning is similar to chickenpox parties held decades ago: Some people believe it's safer for kids to build up "natural immunity" to a weaker form of the disease when they're younger than it is to introduce a vaccine into their bodies. Health officials say that claim is spotty—and dangerous. California state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez says in a statement, "Measles is a serious illness that can have significant consequences," adding that 30% of those with the disease in the current outbreak have been hospitalized.

Plus, Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis tells the Times, there's no proof immunity obtained naturally is better than vaccine-conferred immunity. Art Reingold, a UC Berkeley epidemiology professor and ex-CDC employee, points out that most "pox parties" took place years ago, before vaccines were widely available. "[Parents thought] this is my opportunity for my kid to get immune the old-fashioned way, the way God intended," Reingold tells KQED, adding, "It's looney tunes" to hold a measles party. Willis notes that while his office hasn't confirmed any measles parties taking place, he's received calls asking about the "benefits" of natural immunity. If scientific advice isn't holding sway, Willis has another suggestion: "Any parents who are considering this ... should have a look at a child who's really sick with measles, and I think they'd change their minds." (More measles stories.)

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