Chickenpox parties involve exposing children who haven’t had chickenpox to other children with active chickenpox. These events occurred more often before the invention of the chickenpox vaccine.

Thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, there is now a significantly safer alternative to a chickenpox party.

Keep reading to find out more about chickenpox parties and why they aren’t a good idea for protecting your child from the chickenpox.

A chickenpox party (or pox party) is a meetup of children who’ve never had chickenpox with those who have active chickenpox. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus.

Some parents or caregivers organize chickenpox parties to expose their children to the virus on purpose.

Chickenpox is very contagious. If a child plays or comes in close contact with another child who has it, chances are they will get it too.

Some parents participate in chickenpox parties because they don’t want to vaccinate their children for chickenpox.

Others believe that exposing their children at an early age to chickenpox will help to avoid the more severe side effects of the disease.

While chickenpox is usually mild in children over 12 months old, a chickenpox infection in adults, especially those who are older, can be more serious.

Chickenpox parties aren’t safe because the side effects a particular child might experience from contracting chickenpox can’t be predicted. Most healthy children won’t have severe effects, but some possibly will.

Also, children who attend one of these events could unintentionally expose others to the chickenpox virus.

For this reason, parents who choose to participate in a chickenpox party must isolate their children until the virus is no longer active. A sign the virus is inactive is when all chickenpox lesions have scabbed over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “strongly recommends” against hosting chickenpox parties. The organization advises that vaccination is a much safer option.

When a person gets the chickenpox, the symptoms can range from mild to severe — in short, they’re unpredictable. This is one reason why vaccinating against the disease is recommended.

Chickenpox may cause severe health complications

While some children have milder side effects from chickenpox, others can develop severe health issues, including:

Prior to the varicella vaccine, an estimated 75 to 100 children died per year due to complications from chickenpox.

Vaccine has significantly fewer risks

The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine poses significantly fewer risks of side effects compared to getting chickenpox.

Manufacturers make the vaccine from live, but weakened, viruses. The vaccine is given in two doses, sometimes as part of the measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.

Because the vaccine contains live, weakened viruses, a person could experience mild symptoms after they receive the vaccine. These include a low-grade fever and rash at the vaccine site.

While some people who receive the chickenpox vaccine may still get chickenpox, their symptoms tend to be milder. For example, they don’t tend to have the severe blistering that a person who hasn’t had the vaccine may experience.

It’s true that you don’t have to go to a chickenpox party to be exposed to chickenpox.

A child could be exposed to chickenpox at school from a child who contracted it but wasn’t yet showing symptoms. As well, a person with shingles (also caused by the chickenpox virus) can expose a child to chickenpox.

If you or your child develops chickenpox, there are several treatments you can try to relieve some symptoms. These include:

  • applying calamine lotion to itchy, blistery areas
  • taking cool baths with baking soda, colloidal oatmeal, or uncooked oatmeal to reduce itching
  • keeping fingernails short and smooth to reduce scratching and skin damage
  • taking over-the-counter medications to relieve fever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Never give aspirin to a person younger than age 18. This drug increases the risks of Reye’s syndrome, a severe medical condition, in children.

Contact a healthcare provider if these symptoms appear

You should contact a healthcare provider if you or your loved one experiences the following symptoms:

  • confused behavior
  • fever that is higher than 102°F (38.9°C)
  • fever that lasts longer than 4 days
  • neck stiffness
  • problems breathing
  • rash that is leaking pus, tender to the touch, warm, or red

If a person has a severely immunocompromised system, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax). These medications may reduce the severity or duration of the chickenpox.

Before the varicella vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the varicella vaccine in 1995. Before that, chickenpox was significantly more prevalent in the United States — with an estimated 4 million cases a year.

Of those with chickenpox, an estimated 9,300 people were hospitalized, and 100 died.

The highest mortality rates were for children less than 12 months old, and many who were severely affected had no preexisting medical conditions.

The invention of the varicella vaccine has significantly improved the lives of people of all ages who could have potentially suffered from chickenpox complications.

Chickenpox parties aren’t a safe idea for children because parents can’t guarantee their child won’t develop severe symptoms. There’s also a better alternative.

The varicella vaccine has been available and protecting children from the complications of chickenpox for more than 25 years.

Most people who develop chickenpox can usually treat their symptoms at home. However, anyone with chickenpox who has severe symptoms, seems very ill, or has a weakened immune system should seek medical attention.