"Come to our chicken pox party! Infected lollipops will be provided! Can't make it? We ship!" Huh?
Have you heard of "pox parties"? It's where a mom with a child who has chicken pox in the active stage invites unvaccinated tots over to play in the hopes that they too will contract the disease, thus gaining immunity and avoiding the need for a varicella vaccine. Moms with children as young as 18 months have partied in the hopes of catching the pox. But it doesn't stop there...
A woman in Nashville, Tennessee, has been selling infected lollipops for $50 each on a chicken pox party Facebook page, then shipping them to moms who lived too far away to attend a real-life pox party, ABC News reports. The Facebook page was set up to "help arrange shipments of contaminated objects—jammies, blankets, suckers" to moms across the country. Until her posts were deleted, the Nashville mom offered a "fresh batch of pox in Nashville shipping of suckers, spit, and Q-tips available tomorrow 50 dollars via PayPal."
As news of this disease-by-mail scheme spread, Tennessee authorities stepped in to warn parents that the mailing of infectious items, such as lollipops, rags, etc., is a federal offense. Plus, it's dangerous to children's health.
"Can you imagine getting a package in the mail from this complete stranger that you know from Facebook because you joined a group, and say here, drink this purported spit from some other kid?" US Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin tells The Associated Press (via ABC).
Another health expert warns that lollipops and other items could carry other more dangerous viruses, like hepatitis.
But OK, so it sounds gross and it's not safe at all, but for curiosity's sake we asked: can a lollipop licked by a kid hundreds of miles away actually cause another child to come down with chicken pox? The answer—thankfully—appears to be no. According to Isaac Thomsen, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital (via ABC News), "shipping infected items is 'theoretically possible' but probably not an effective way to transmit it. It typically has to be inhaled."
As for the Facebook page, posts specifically selling infected lollipops have since been taken down and the page put up a post that it will soon be deleted. But just because the Facebook page is gone, the question remains: are parents willing to go to this extreme now willing to stop? After all, there's always email to spread the word—and spread chicken pox.