Thursday, May 7, 2009

Should we encourage Swine Flu parties?

Infectious-disease specialists say they understand the logic: surviving the current, apparently mild strain of the virus may be protective if a more virulent strain emerges next fall. But they are generally against it.

Dr. Anne Moscona, a flu specialist at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, said she had been called by a reporter for a women’s magazine “asking if mothers should hold swine flu parties, like chickenpox parties.”

(Chickenpox parties, at which children gather so they can all be infected by a child who has the pox, are often held by parents who distrust chickenpox vaccine or want their children to have the stronger immunity that surviving a full-blown infection affords and are willing to take the risk that their child will not get serious complications.)

“I think it’s totally nuts,” Dr. Moscona said. “I can’t believe people are really thinking of doing it. I understand the thinking, but I just fear we don’t know enough about how this virus would react in every individual. This is like the Middle Ages, when people deliberately infected themselves with smallpox. It’s vigilante vaccination — you know, taking immunity into your own hands.”

The idea has arisen from the history of the 1918 Spanish flu. A mild spring outbreak was followed by two deadly waves in the early and late winter of 1918-1919. Some believe, although there is little evidence beyond anecdotal reports in old newspapers, that those who got sick in the first wave were less likely to get sick in the second and third.

Many cite as the source of their thinking the book “The Great Influenza,” a history of the 1918 pandemic by John M. Barry.

Mr. Barry, in a telephone interview, said he had never publicly suggested deliberate self-infection, “but I used to joke with my wife, and I may have jokingly said it in speeches, that if a virus emerged and looked mild, I’d be on an airplane to Indonesia.”

-Debating the Wisdom of ‘Swine Flu Parties’

1 comment:

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