Could You Really Send Chicken Pox Through the Mail on a Lollipop?

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In the last few weeks, media outlets have reported on parents using Facebook and other social networking sites to trade lollipops and other items infected by children who have chicken pox. These parents are trying to expose their healthy children to these items to build their immunity without having the children vaccinated.

Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that sending viruses and diseases either through the U.S. mail or via private carriers is illegal, that the only difference between this and bioterrorism is intent, and that U.S. Attorneys are investigating people connected to these lollipop operations.

Let's ignore the fact that giving a child a virus instead of an immunization not only puts that child at risk, but also other children they come in contact with, including those who may have compromised immune systems or may not have been able to receive the vaccine.

Let's ignore the fact that chicken pox is a herpes virus that can re-emerge as shingles, and that vaccinated children have a lower risk of shingles than kids who naturally contract chicken pox.

Let us suspend disbelief, stretch the imagination, and pretend that this isn't crazy for all those reasons.

Let's step back and ask the one question that’s really been eating away at us: Will this even work?

Probably not.

A lollipop is, according to experts, a terrible candidate for an infection vehicle. The varicella virus, which causes chicken pox, “is spread by airborne droplets, not saliva contact,” says Jeff Dimond, from the Centers for Disease Control. Someone sick needs to sneeze or cough or just breath on you, and you need to inhale the virus to give it a good chance at infection.

Even if the virus wasn’t transmitted by a respiratory route, it likely wouldn’t have a long enough shelf life in a loogie or on a used lollipop for it to survive in the mail and do any damage. Dimond says that the virus’ lifespan depends heavily on its conditions and environment, but “whether [mailing it] would work or not is very suspect.”

“If there's a very high load on the virus and shipped very quickly, it's theoretically possible,” Vanderbilt Children's Hospital’s Isaac Thomsen told the Associated Press, but that seems like putting an awful lot of faith in the United States Postal Service.

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November 17, 2011 - 5:37am
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