November 6, 2011
Mail-Order Chickenpox Illegal, Unsafe, Say Experts
Parents who want their children to catch chickenpox at an early age have been known to go to extreme measures to expose them to the illness, but a new fad -- first reported on by a Nashville television station -- takes the process to a new, illegal extreme.
According to Erik Schelzig of the Associated Press (AP) and Rita Rubin of the TodayMoms website, WSMV-TV aired a story Thursday about a Nashville-area woman who charged $50 to send, via overnight mail, lollipops that had been sucked on by her chickenpox-infected kids.
The next day, the television station interviewed federal prosecutor Jerry Martin, who warned that it is not only unsafe to send contagious items through the postal service -- it's also illegal.
U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan confirmed Martin's statement, telling Rubin in an email, "Mailing infectious substances and/or materials is illegal unless it meets very specialized requirements between authorized parties -- and chickenpox parties don't qualify."
It could also be completely ineffective, Rafael Harpaz, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told TodayMoms on Friday.
"We could guess that the virus would survive longer in liquids or on wet surfaces than dry surfaces," he said. "To some degree, it would depend how much virus was on the item to begin with“¦ it could be contagious, but maybe not."
On the flip side, it could contain more than just chickenpox. As Isaac Thomsen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, told Schelzig that infected lollipops or similar items probably would not transmit chickenpox, but could harbor hepatitis or other dangerous microbes.
"There are so many reasons why this is a dumb idea," Harpaz told Rubin.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, getting a chickenpox vaccine works "very well" in preventing the disease from occurring, and even in those cases where a vaccinated individual catches the disease, they usually experience milder symptoms.
On the Net:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Vanderbilt Children's Hospital
- U.S. National Library of Medicine