CDC is again warning parents not to send your children to a swine flu party. The idea is to provide them with immunity, like used to be done with chickenpox parties. It’s pretty hard to believe this is a live issue and CDC admits it doesn’t have evidence that any have actually occurred. When it came up in the spring, during the first wave of H1N1, we and all other flu experts said it was a very bad idea, but at least one could understand the reasoning then. Since there was no vaccine and the worry was that swine flu might come back in the fall in altered and worse form during flu season, it was understandable that some people might have the idea it was better to get it then, when it was being described as “mild illness” than take their chances in a full blown pandemic in the fall when the virus might have increased virulence. It was still a lousy idea, because even then it was clear that the virus was a malignant lottery ticket that usually didn’t pay off with a severe or fatal illness, but like any lottery ticket it could. That was then. But now? You would have to be seriously stupid or certifiably crazy to even consider it now. It’s probably urban legend. But just to be on the safe side, let’s go over how incredibly dumb it would be.
First of all, it’s already flu season, so any reasons someone might have had in the spring are moot. The virus is back, it isn’t more virulent than the spring but it’s bad enough. It can kill young healthy adults and children or put them on machines that breathe for them. If the idea is to “self-vaccinate” because the vaccine is delayed and you don’t want to wait, that is so dumb it is hardly even worth pointing out why, but I’ll do it anyway because someone that dumb has to have it spelled out for them. The reason to get vaccinated is to lessen the chances of your child getting the flu if exposed. So deliberately exposing unvaccinated children to the flu would be exactly the outcome a parent should be most concerned about. If the idea is that naturally acquired immunity is better than immunity acquired “artificially” from a vaccine, that’s probably true. But the risk of side effects from naturally acquired flu are thousands of times higher and more serious than the side effects from the conventional vaccines used for swine flu, so the trade-off isn’t even close. And what appears to be a mild respiratory disease in one child can kill another child. Virulence is a combined effect of the virus, the host and the environment. Some kids draw the short straw and we don’t know why. CDC points out that exposing your child to another child with a febrile respiratory disease doesn’t mean you are exposing them to swine flu, since there are a lot of viruses out there.
CDC says it not only gets calls about swine flu parties but sees them mentioned in social media networks. Pretty hard to believe, although there are some seriously demented people out there running on about swine flu conspiracies. In comparison swine flu parties seem comparatively sane. But it’s like the old Henny Youngman joke (which I keep using because it works for so many things): “Hey, Henny, how’s your wife?” Henny: “Compared to what?”