Are 'Swine Flu Parties' Safe?

While parents want to protect their children, exposing them to illness is not a prudent practice.

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I've heard that some parents are throwing "swine flu parties" for their kids with the intent of exposing them to the virus now, while it's mild, so that kids have enough immunity to fight the virus off. Is this a good idea?

While parents want to protect their children from infections, exposing them to illness is not a prudent practice. I asked Dr. Thomas Sandora, the director of infection control at Children's Hospital in Boston, to give his advice. Here's what he had to say:

Swine flu parties are a dangerous gamble and a big mistake. The novel H1N1 influenza virus is predicted to be the predominant circulating strain of flu in the country this winter. It is true that infection with an influenza virus can produce immunity to that strain—that's the principle by which vaccination works. However, catching this novel H1N1 flu virus can be extremely dangerous. More than 500 people have died already from the virus in the United States alone, and although in most healthy individuals the disease is mild, we don't know exactly which people will have more trouble with it. We do know that children under 5 years old, people with underlying illnesses such as asthma, and pregnant women are all at risk of complications from influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, and sore throat) avoid contact with others until 24 hours after the fever goes away.

The idea of parties designed to expose children to infections is not new—in the past, some people have hosted 'chicken pox parties' in an attempt to expose their children to varicella, often with the goal of avoiding vaccination. But chicken pox can also have fatal complications, so it's a huge gamble. In my opinion, intentionally exposing your child to a potentially fatal infection is never a risk worth taking.

[ Slide Show: 10 Do's and Don'ts to Protect Yourself From Swine Flu]

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