Parents are being warned against "chickenpox parties" because
the highly infectious disease can be fatal, or lead to severe
complications and permanent disabilities.
Medical officer of health for Waikato District Health Board
Dr Felicity Dumble said advice to put healthy and infected
children together was misguided and dangerous and not
recommended by health authorities.
The warning comes as one mother calls for chickenpox vaccine
to be added to the immunisation schedule after her daughter
almost died of complications from the illness.
And recommendations from experts to fund the varicella
vaccine are growing stronger as 50,000 people are infected
with chickenpox each year. More than 400 have to go to
hospital because of complications, and up to two people die.
It follows the addition of the varicella vaccine to the
schedule this month for children and adults at high risk of
disease because of other medical conditions, but the general
population must pay $70 to be immunised.
Dr Dumble said the idea of chickenpox parties to spread the
illness was worrying.
"We do not endorse or recommend that because while for most
it can be a mild illness there's always that risk of
complications, and how would people feel if they'd done that
and the child got seriously ill and ended up in hospital?"
Michelle Bibby grimaces every time she hears about a
chickenpox party after her daughter Isla ended up critically
ill in Starship hospital in January 2010 with pneumonia and
an enlarged heart and liver from chickenpox complications.
The virus lowered her immunity so drastically the 2-year-old
developed a severe Staphylococcus aureus infection, causing
the pneumonia and resulting in risky heart surgery.
"I would wake up every morning and think 'Is she dead?',"
recalls Mrs Bibby, who wants varicella vaccine on the
The little girl was almost in heart failure with 250ml of
fluid compressing her enlarged heart, and a liver five times
larger than it should have been.
Surgeons found blisters filled with pus fused to her heart
and had to scrape away the pericardium sac and douse the
heart in antibiotics.
Isla's case was so extreme it was documented in the New
Zealand Medical Journal where specialists questioned whether
it was time for a universal chickenpox vaccine.
Her severe complications could have been avoided or vastly
reduced if she had been vaccinated, even after initial
But the family were not advised to have the vaccine which has
been a scheduled immunisation in the United States since 1995
and in Australia since 2005, where it has steadily reduced
cases of the illness and hospital admissions.
Wellington GP and Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr
Nikki Turner said chickenpox parties made sense before a
vaccine was available.
"But now we have a good effective vaccine, why on earth would
you do a chickenpox party?
"I think it's incredibly inappropriate to do that now. I
think people who have got some fears about vaccines do that
because it doesn't make any common sense to have a chickenpox
Dr Turner, who is on a national advisory committee to
medicine funding agency Pharmac, said the committee had been
recommending varicella vaccine for universal inclusion on the
schedule for many years.
A Plunket clinical adviser, Allison Jamieson, said chickenpox
parties were not as common as in past decades and Plunket
advised against them.
"You don't know what other conditions children have that
might compromise them if they got an illness and some of the
complications of those illnesses are terrible."
- By Natalie Akoorie of NZ Herald