Thursday, September 17, 2009

Break On Through

This week we've been suffering through a case of "breakthrough" chicken pox. This is, apparently, what they call it when your kid has had the varicella vaccine and winds up getting the chicken pox anyway.

It took some time for the doctor and I to even realize that she had it. Breakthrough cases are usually milder (as hers is) than cases in unvaccinated kids. And breakthrough cases don't always behave in the same way that standard chicken pox does.

A little itching, a very mild fever and less than 30 spots doesn't seem like much to complain about. Most of us Mamas probably remember suffering through worse when we had it. (I know I sure do; I got the chicken pox for my 13th birthday.)

Being quarantined all week , however, has given me time to question the wisdom of a vaccine that still leads to infection in 15 to 20 percent of cases (according to the CDC). My views on vaccines are not radical; the Little One is up to date on every recommended vaccine. But varicella is largely a benign virus. When we were kids and someone got it, we were supposed to go over and play with them. It wasn't something our parents were afraid of us contracting and very, very rarely led to complications.

So, my question, as the Little One and I embark on a fourth day of house arrest, is this: Is varicella something that we actually need a vaccine for? Especially one that doesn't seem to work all that well?

In a world where our super-clean, hyper-vaccinated lifestyles are being implicated in the exponential rise in childhood allergies (see the Hygiene Hypothesis) it's at least worth asking if somewhat ineffective vaccines against benign viruses are truly necessary. We are graced from birth with immune systems whose specific job it is to fight off illness. Getting sick actually strengthens a body's ability to fight the next onslaught of germs. But vaccines, antibiotics (and their overuse), and antibacterial everything have pushed the front line of defense against sickness beyond our immune systems. When our bodies don't have enough opportunity to fight off germs and disease, so the Hygiene Hypothesis goes, they will go to work fighting other "invaders" like pollen, mold, dust, and certain foods, creating an allergy.

So, while the Little One's immune system is getting varicella virus workout, we're making our way through a small stack of DVDs from the library. And if she's feeling up to it this afternoon, we might do a little finger painting. And I am blessed with some unexpected time with the Little One while she's home from school. Seems like a little case of the chicken pox isn't so bad after all.


Kate said...

What a good mama you are, Meaghan.

Ruth said...

I agree with the hygiene hypothesis. That's not necessarily the reason my house and children are not particularly clean (could be laziness), but it's the reason I don't fret about it!

CindyC said...

My own memory of having the chicken pox is actually quite sweet and I hope your litte one will have the same experience (hanging out w/mom, watching favorite DVDs). My mom was cleaning windows and ironing one day and we just spent the day talking and laughing as she did her chores. I laid on the couch and she put calomine lotion on my itchy spots. Wishing all of you a lovely memory of your mom or with your child!