Swine flu parties for kids? Just say no

Some parents in the UK are discussing the idea of swine flu parties for their children. British parents have long held “chicken pox parties” at the beginning of summer. The idea is that it’s better for children to catch this once-in-a-lifetime disease at an age when there should be few complications.

The reasoning with swine flu is to give your child immunity now, while the virus is still mild. The UK’s National Health Service is preparing for 100,000 new cases a day by winter. Presumably supplies of Tamiflu will be lower at that time, and hospital space may be at a premium.

Don’t do it

This is definitely not a good idea. According to Sir Liam Donaldson, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, swine flu parties reflect “seriously flawed thinking.”

“We don’t yet know enough about the risk profile of the virus, and while it has generally been mild in the U.K., in some parts of the world young previously healthy adults have died. Parents would never forgive themselves if they exposed a vulnerable child to serious illness.”

Dr. Richard Jarvis, chairman of the British Medical Association’s public health committee, argues that the “flu party” idea undermines efforts to combat swine flu.

[I]f people actively sought to get flu, health services may not be able to act in the same way as they are doing now. The approach to date … has been based on containment. This has involved close monitoring of flu patients and giving their close contacts drugs to try to prevent the virus developing. … “If we get to the point where containment is not possible we will not be able to monitor cases as closely or get anti-virals out as quickly.

He also warns about the danger of burnout among public health doctors like himself: “Tired doctors make poor decisions and chronically tired doctors become prone to a variety of health problems.”

Mums talking to mums

Discussion of swine flu parties may have started on the Mumsnet site for parents, “a web portal for decidedly middle class British mothers,” according to Time. Justine Roberts, founder of the site, says she believes parents have become confused by the Government policy of keeping schools open and at the same time telling parents to take every possible precaution to guard children against the virus.

“No one wants to cause hysteria,” she said. “The Government has an agenda, I assume, about having to control the infection, but the truth of the matter is either you should get it now or try to avoid getting it – you can’t have it both ways. It’s so easy to give a glib representation of ignorant parents who are acting hysterically.”

A teen’s perspective: “I’d prefer to get it now”

According to fifteen-year-old Ella Thorold, who has already attended an impromptu swine flu party, “I’d prefer to get it now.”

I have been to a swine flu party – but it didn’t start out like that. It was a regular teenager’s party until the conversation turned to swine flu and it turned out that my friend’s boyfriend has it so it’s likely that my friend, who is also 15, does as well. …

Then, the “swine flu party” started: a coughing fit from my friend all over everyone else. I know that the Government is warning us against these, but I can’t see the problem. If I’m going to get it, I’d prefer to get it now, rather than next year which is my final GCSE year, and because apparently it’s going to be the winter version of the disease that will be more dangerous.

If I manage to get it now hopefully I can be cured quickly; if I get it in six months, then I’ll be shoved in a hospital with thousands of other people who have swine flu waiting for some attention.

And I’m pretty sure that if I managed to get my school closed down for the last weeks of term, I’d be the school hero!

Related posts:
Swine flu and hand washing: The how, the when, and the why
Swine flu, kids, and a “wash your hands” rap video
Flu season: Should we stop shaking hands?
Preparing for the flu: Why don’t we do it in our sleeves?
Fear of flying: Will I catch swine flu on an airplane?
Flu news overdose

Sources:

(Links will open in a separate window or tab.)

Eben Harrell, Swine Flu in Britain: Nothing to Party About, Time, July 3, 2009

Nick Triggle, Swine flu parties ‘a bad idea,’ BBC News, June 29, 2009

Chris Green, Warning over ‘swine flu parties’ plan, The Independent, July 1, 2009

Mumsnet, By parents for parents

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