California health officials and doctors are strongly urging parents not to intentionally expose their kids to infectious diseases after news broke that anti-vaccination parents may be throwing “measles parties” so that their kids can get the disease out of the way and gain immunity.
“It’s the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time,” said Kathleen Jordan, a doctor who specializes in infectious disease at Dignity Health Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. “Measles kills people, and I can’t believe anyone would send their child to a party knowing that.”
In 2013, 145,700 people died of measles globally, mostly children under age 5, according to the World Health Organization. That amounts to about 400 deaths a day, or 16 every hour. A recent measles outbreak anchored in California, where more than 100 cases have been recorded, has put a spotlight on the state’s sizable community of parents against vaccinations.
“It’s more than irresponsible; it’s offensive,” she said. “It’s almost as if these children that died of measles, because they didn’t die of measles on U.S. soil, it’s like they didn’t count.”
Concern that parents in California’s anti-vaccination enclaves may be organizing measles parties arose last week when Julie Schiffman, a mother of two unvaccinated elementary school-aged children in Marin County, told local public media outlet KQED that a friend offered to arrange a playdate for her children with a child who had measles so that the uninfected kids could get it over with. Measles can only infect a person once.
In an email to HuffPost, Schiffman said the offer was made in a "passing comment" and that she declined and did not think the infected child's parents would want to participate either. There are no confirmed occurrences of measles parties happening, and health officials are urging parents to keep it that way.
The California Department of Public Health warned parents against such parties shortly after.
“CDPH strongly recommends against the intentional exposure of children to measles as it unnecessarily places the exposed children at potentially grave risk and could contribute to further spread of the outbreak,” the department’s Dr. Gil Chavez told CBS Los Angeles.
Both Jordan and Yasuko Fukuda, a private practice doctor at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center and vice chair for the California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said they have heard rumors of parents considering measles parties but didn’t know of any happening for sure. Fukuda told HuffPost that such parties were common for kids with chicken pox before the vaccine for that was introduced in the U.S. in 1995.
“The thinking [with chicken pox] was that it was better to get it sooner and have children get exposed and just have it over with, and what is different about measles is that it’s not as benign … You can get much sicker,” she said.
She warns that parents intentionally exposing their kids put them at risk of respiratory issues that can lead to pneumonia, a swelling infection that can result in permanent brain damage and hearing loss, and a fatal disease of the central nervous system that doesn’t develop until 7-10 years after being infected with measles.
This story has been updated.