Would you attend a party knowing the host has the swine flu?
Dr. Alanna Levine: Some people are considering it. Similar to the "chicken pox parties" attended by parents who want to avoid giving their child the chicken pox vaccine, "swine flu parties" may be in fashion. The idea behind these parties is to create a scenario in which kids share lollipops and sippy cups with a child who has been infected, with the hope that all of the healthy children at the party will also get sick and build up an immunity to the pox, thereby eliminating the need to get the vaccine.
This is a controversial topic, and many in the medical community -- myself included -- think that it's irresponsible to intentionally give your child an illness that may cause serious complications, including invasive skin infections or even encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. These parties originated before the vaccine was available because parents wanted their children to "get it over with" before adolescence and adulthood, when the symptoms tended to be more severe. But since 1995, an effective and safe vaccine against chicken pox has been available, so I consider these parties to be outdated, unnecessary, and frankly a little dangerous.
But now people are worried that the current Influenza A H1N1 (dubbed "swine flu") will mirror the Spanish flu of 1918, which caused only mild illness in the late spring, but then came back with a vengeance in the fall, killing an estimated 50 million people. The CDC hasn't yet determined if a vaccine for Influenza A H1N1 will be made (though preparations have begun), and so far, the virus seems to be susceptible to antiviral medications. But there is a possibility this may change if the virus changes or mutates, and as a result, some individuals are scouring the Internet to find people throwing "swine flu parties," on the assumption that surviving the current, apparently mild strain of the virus will protect them if and when a more virulent strain emerges in the fall.
So, the question is, should we take things into our own hands and try to infect ourselves now when the strain of the flu seems to be mild? Absolutely not.
First of all, there is no proof that getting infected now will prevent infection later, especially if the virus mutates. Second, we have only been investigating this strain of Influenza for two weeks, and we don't really know how each individual will be affected by the virus. And third, the flu is notoriously unpredictable, and even normal seasonal flu kills more American children each year than chicken pox does. How would you feel as a parent if you purposefully exposed your child to an illness that proved to be fatal?
So what can you do? The safest route is to employ the same protective measures used each year for seasonal flu:1. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
2. Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing.
3. Avoid close contact with sick individuals and stay home if you are not feeling well.
4. Consult with your doctor if you have questions.
5. Visit www.cdc.gov for changing information and reliable advice.
|Dr. Alanna Levine is a pediatrician in private practice and on staff at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, where she attends high risk deliveries and cares for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She frequently appears as a medical expert on various news outlets and lives in New York with her husband and their two children.|