Science Questions

Sun, 27th Mar 2005

Part of the show Avian Flu, Viruses, Bed Bugs and Murder

Question

Christine asked:

When she was younger, she went to chicken pox and mumps parties to spread the illness and build up her immune system. Why don't parents do this now?

Answer

When I was young this was a very common practice, however, chicken pox can actually be a very dangerous disease, in pregnant women in particular. If they haven't had chicken pox and get it early in pregnancy, it can cause problems in the baby, so they need to see a GP very quickly. Equally if adults get chicken pox, again, there's a much higher rate of complications with swelling of the brain and pneumonia. Every year in Cambridge we have one or two people who die from chicken pox. It's more serious than people think. So it's not really that great to get it, even if you're young because you can always pass it onto someone else, who might be pregnant or older. The next thing coming along is a chicken pox vaccine, which may well be in use in a few years time.

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