I'm curious as to who here has intentionally infected their child with something for the sake of immunity -- especially chicken pox or flu. How common is this? Did you wait until a certain age? Do you think it's a good idea at all?

(Some of the responses to this question touch on this a bit, but since that thread is supposed to be something different, I'd like to address it here.)

asked 17 Nov '09, 16:18

Dinah's gravatar image

accept rate: 15%

I've never done this with my child, and never will. And I've given some serious thought to the rationale.

First, from a risk perspective, it doesn't make much sense. You have a certain chance of getting a disease, and a chance of not getting it. How does ENSURING you get it help things? You're still exposed to the disease, but now with 100% certainty. For flu specifically: the whole reason there is a different vaccination every year is that there are different flu strains every year. Immunity from one won't, in general, confer immunity to the ones next year. Exposing them intentionally to the flu merely ensures that you get it this year; wouldn't it be better to try to not get it?

(EDIT: Aside: there was a [possibly misguided] reason for people doing this in the old days, which is that some diseases were much more dangerous to get as adults than as children, so there was some lifetime risk reduction coming from ensuring you had it as a child and then having subsequent immunity. Flu was never one of these cases. Chicken pox was, but now that you can get immunity from the vaccine, there is no reason to intentionally contract the actual disease.)

But I would also be pretty disturbed by the moral implications of this approach. There are basically two problems with this idea:

  1. These diseases are really harmful for some of the people who get them. It's a minority, but believe it or not, there are quite a few hospitalizations of children for flu, chicken pox, HIB, and so on. For some kids, they are quite severe. Why risk that when you could try to get them NOT to be infected, or confer immunity through the much less risky means of vaccination? I couldn't intentionally infect my child with a disease that puts some kids in the hospital or worse. (Just ask your pediatrician to describe what a bad case of [your favorite disease] is like.)

  2. Why turn your child into a disease vector? It's not as if they will be sick and then you can be sure that they are the only one. Every person with the disease has a chance of passing it on to somebody else -- other kids, people whose vaccinations didn't confer full immunity, babies too young to be vaccinated, the neighbor whose immune system is depressed because they're undergoing cancer treatment, etc. These are the most vulnerable people in our community. Why put them at extra risk?

It seems to me that it would be a HUGE moral lapse to intentionally contribute to spreading a disease that could severely harm other people. And that includes your child, who can't possibly understand the risk tradeoffs and meaningfully consent. I think it's our obligation to our kids to choose the low-risk option (which, by any objective measure is vaccination and keeping them away from other people known to have infectious diseases), as well as to do our best to keep diseases from spreading through the wider community.


answered 17 Nov '09, 16:47

lgritz's gravatar image

accept rate: 14%

edited 17 Nov '09, 18:38


+1. I was just gonna say the idea of it was nuts. You said it better.

(17 Nov '09, 18:16) MrChrister

+1: Nicely said.

(17 Nov '09, 19:42) Kate

I've never heard of anyone doing this with the flu, but I have heard of "chicken pox parties" because as you said, chicken pox is much worse if you get it as an adult. But don't think that if your kids have had the vaccine, they're immune. Both of my kids had the vaccine, and my older son got chicken pox anyway.

(17 Nov '09, 23:47) Graeme

@Graeme: No vaccines are 100% effective -- they depend on "herd immunity", which is exactly why getting vaccinated is not just for your benefit, but it also impedes the spread of disease among those who could not be vaccinated or whose vaccines didn't confer immunity.

(18 Nov '09, 02:01) lgritz

From this article in the Washington Post:

Many who choose to expose their children believe that catching the illness at "chickenpox parties" is safer and more effective than using vaccines.

But some doctors and other health experts are warning that the practice is dangerous. They say that chickenpox is an unpredictable disease. A "wild" exposure may not necessarily make for a milder case, or, on the other hand, guarantee the child will catch the virus. They say complications from chickenpox can be life-threatening.

"Chickenpox is not necessarily a benign disease or a childhood rite of passage," said Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "We don't recommend parents expose their children. The vaccine is best."

Allen points out that before the vaccination was available, there were 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths annually in the United States from chickenpox, also known as varicella. During 2003 and the first half of 2004, the CDC reported eight deaths from varicella, six of whom were children or adolescents. While the vaccine protects 70 percent to 90 percent of those who receive it, he said, those who do contract the disease after vaccination usually get a milder case than what occurs naturally.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children get the vaccine between the ages of 12 months and 18 months. Schools and day-care centers are increasingly adding the shot to their list of requirements for attendance.


answered 18 Nov '09, 17:49

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Scott ♦♦
accept rate: 10%

vaccines dont always work, or they work in strange ways. I was fully vaccined. Got chickenpox quite severely as a three yr old, also had shingles at fourteen. Have had whooping cough three times. I have also never infected anyone with either of these, including my husband who has been with me through two lots of whooping cough. But other than that I've barely had a cold but once a year for two to three days....


answered 24 Jul '11, 08:34

mummyandwife's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%


That said, catching the disease does not guarantee immunity. My mom got the chicken pox twice (at ages 2 and 6) because the first time around her immune system was not developed enough immunize her against it.

(24 Jul '11, 17:19) mkcoehoorn

@mkcoehoorn -- I had it twice, too!

(27 Jul '11, 13:02) Anne
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Asked: 17 Nov '09, 16:18

Seen: 3,687 times

Last updated: 27 Jul '11, 13:02