Chickenpox-Laced Lollipops Sold on Facebook

In a literally sickening Facebook ad gone viral, a Nashville, TN mom offered to sell lollipops tainted with chickenpox germs. Wendy Werkit explained that she’d shipped lollipops which her children had sucked on, “so other people’s kids can get chickenpox.” Actually, her target market was parents who want their kids to catch chickenpox. As an added bonus, the virus-laced lollipops, priced at $50, payable via PayPal, came with infected spit and Q-tips.

Werkit’s ad ran on a Facebook page called “Find a Pox Party Near You,” where parents shared tips on how to send virus-laden spit—transported on candies, washcloths, or cotton swabs—through the U.S. mail. Scarier advice: “Don’t put anything identifying it as pox.”

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The Facebook page now carries a disclaimer, “ABSOLUTELY NO SENDING VIRUSES THROUGH THE MAIL,” and states that its mission is to help parents find local “chickenpox parties.” The premise is that catching the disease gives kids lifelong immunity without vaccination. To get the medical facts behind this bizarre story, I talked to Nathan Litman, MD, Chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Section at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City.

Can sending chickenpox lollipops through the mail spread the virus?

It’s unlikely that the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox would survive the trip, says Dr. Litman. “Another problem is that when you buy infected body fluids from a stranger over the Internet, you have no idea what you’ll get—the lollipop or spit could contain HIV, drug-resistant superbugs like MRSA, other dangerous pathogens, or even poison.” It’s also illegal to send infectious materials over state lines, under the same law that bars shipping pathogens like anthrax, either by mail or services like Fedex.

What’s the origin of chickenpox parties?

“In the pre-vaccine era, exposing children at chickenpox parties wasn’t a terrible idea, because this illness tends to be worse in adults than in children, so it was better to get it at a young age,” says Dr. Litman. Since chickenpox is highly contagious, there is an 80 to 90 percent chance that a child who is exposed will get the disease, which is spread through direct contact with an infected person or inhaling airborne droplets released when the person coughs or sneezes. Pox parties have had a surge of popularity among vaccine opponents, with parents seeking them placing ads on Craig’s list or posting on Facebook.

NEXT: Dangers of "Pox Parties" >>

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