The idea of having a pox party (or any of the other childhood illnesses) has appealed to me for quite some time. Traditionally the family with the infected child would invite visiting children to stay at least overnight. The visitors would then share baths and beds with the patient to increase the chance of being exposed to body fluids carrying the virus. I have recently had the opportunity to expose other children to the chicken pox virus when the illness hopped from one member of my family to the other. Unfortunately, as I discovered when trying to share the idea, other people often feel differently about pox parties! Fear, is the most common reason for the negative reaction given by people when I presented the opportunity of having their children exposed to the virus. Fear of bad timing. Fear of the illness itself. Fear of the unknown. Fear of how to cope with nursing a child through an illness. Fear of missing out on celebrations, or work.
Childhood pox, properly managed, should reduce the chance of repeating the illness later in life. The problem with adults being exposed, if not already immune to the varicella zoster virus, is that adults usually find chicken pox much more painful and difficult to deal with and there is the possibility of developing shingles. Shingles is an incredibly painful illness and is more likely to develop again at times of stress and low immunity than if the same person had contracted chicken pox as a child. Of course, the medicos say that it is actually contracting chicken pox that will increase your chance of getting shingles later on in life. That argument has never made sense to me. My understanding of how the bodys immunity system works without medical interference should indicate a lower risk. This theory has been recently supported by several studies.. If the illness is treated in the conventional way, it could suppress the virus which means it is more likely to lay latent in the body, thereby increasing the risk of shingles later in life.
Chicken pox, as for all viral illnesses, are at their most infectious before it is apparent the person has the illness. We play Russian roulette most of the time with our health, so why not grab the opportunity to increase our chances of planning, or at least be prepared for, an illness which will (eventually) strengthen our immunity system? Most childhood illnesses have a certain window of opportunity age wise, so most babies will not get chicken pox – particularly if they are fully breastfed by an immune mother. An exception to this can be where the pregnant mother has contracted the virus in the last stages of her pregnancy. Chicken pox parties therefore give an opportunity for a child to be exposed to the varicella virus at an age when the disease is supposed to be caught. There has been recent discussion of evidence showing that the widespread use of the chicken pox vaccination has meant that adults are prone to developing shingles because they havent developed immunity to the varicella virus as children.
The chicken pox started in our family just before Christmas last year with my second born being the first to get it. Was the timing great? Not really. Did anyone want to be exposed to her at a gathering? No, not really. However, even if an infected child did play with other children, they would need to pass on fluid such as saliva (via sharing drinks and toys) or by the fluid from the pox pustules (if they are broken). The incubation period is then 10 to 21 days after exposure, but most cases appear 14-17 days afterwards. In this particular case it would have meant the receiving child would be getting sick around Christmas! Funnily enough, not too many people were keen on that idea. Chicken pox usually lasts seven to ten days for children and longer for adults. My experience with the length of illness was considerably shorter. That could be for a number of reasons which I will discuss below.
Concerns of Chicken Pox
It may sound as if I am blasé about children contracting an illness. Rest assured, I am not. First of all, I believe that someone needs to be available to nurse a child through an illness and be able to respond to their individual needs. My children experienced their dose of chicken pox differently with their temperaments and symptoms varying. My husband was another story altogether! Yes, he contracted chicken pox at the same time as our baby with our firstborn getting sick in between everyone else! It also happened to be in between Christmas and New Year. I believe I had immunity from contracting the pox as a child.
Secondly, following on from having the actual time to nurse the patient, is having the skills or access to someone with the skills to support the person through their illness. The important thing to avoid with chicken pox is the secondary infections sometimes caught when the itchy pocks are scratched by children allowing access for staphylococcus and similar bacterial infections. Conventional or allopathic treatment of chicken pox would normally be calamine lotion to ease the itch and paracetamol to bring down the temperature. Children are often prescribed antibiotics too – especially if the child is prone to scratching the pox. I believe that calamine suppresses the immune system, thereby possibly causing more likelihood of developing shingles later in life. I also think that paracetamol and other such drugs dont allow the body to naturally fight the virus – the high temperatures serve a purpose. I also have concerns with the effect of synthetic drugs on the liver. Even herbal remedies need cautious use in children particularly.
I prefer to use complimentary medicine when dealing with family illnesses. My qualifications in aromatherapy and life long interest in complimentary medicine, helps me feel confident that I can support my sick children. For example, I occasionally use lavender compresses to cool their temperatures slightly to a level where they can sleep. I have also learned many other tricks with simple kitchen ingredients such as onions. I am also an avid user of tissue salts, herbal remedies, cranio sacral therapy and homeopathy. For nursing my children through chicken pox, I quite simply used regular green clay baths. This works on a few levels. First of all the water itself was soothing – particularly in a hot Queensland summer! The clay also eases the itching, and seems to work on a drawing action (such as how a clay facial mask would work). There is also the possibility that the minerals found in green clay are beneficial to skin lesions. I found that all the children seemed to cope with their illness pretty easily and their energy level remained generally quite high. Even my husband, who had some clay baths and used just a few painkillers, had only a couple of days of laying low. I felt so sorry for him, I even went to the chemist to buy the painkillers myself! Had any of my family patients appeared to not be coping or developing any infections I would have moved on to using tissue salts and/or consulting a homeopath while reviewing their nutritional intake.
Nutrition is another important factor with coping with illnesses at any time. If your body is provided with regular good quality nutrients and you lead a healthy lifestyle, then your immunity response should be strong and be able to cope with illnesses without them developing into something more serious. This should mean avoiding the more serious complications that can occur with chicken pox.
Pregnant women need to be very cautious with exposures to viruses of any sort, particularly in the first trimester and partway through the second trimester when high temperatures can have an adverse affect on the foetus. The rare fatalities from chicken pox are higher in pregnant women because they are more prone to developing pneumonia. Antibodies can be tested in a pregnant woman if there is a concern. I would also suggest consulting your health care provider if you have a viral infection of any sort while pregnant.
The other important caution is that aspirin is contraindicated in children with pox as its use can lead to Reyes syndrome.
Making the decision to be intentional about exposing your child to any virus depends on quite a few factors. Asking yourself the following questions may be a good starting point.
- What is your health philosophy? Do you follow the allopathic or complimentary medical path? Or a combination of both?
- Do you have the time to invest in nursing your sick child?
- Does your family, especially your children, follow a truly healthy diet including organic whole foods, keep fit and are generally in good health?
- Do you have experience in, or confidence in complimentary medicine or alternative therapies?
- Have you researched the effectiveness, the duration of effectiveness, and any side-effects of vaccinations?
- Are there any current risk factors that you need to take into consideration with exposing your family members to the varicella zoster virus? For example, is a family member pregnant or immuno-suppressed?
The idea of a Pox Party is becoming more popular and has been featured in television programs such as South Park and The Simpsons. Of course the medical industry strongly refutes the benefits of pox parties. After all, who would keep financing the pharmaceutical and medical worlds if vaccinations were snubbed by the general public?