Correction to This Article
A Sept. 20 Health section article about parents' exposing their children to chickenpox incorrectly stated that Trish Thackston of Alexandria was among parents who had shunned the chickenpox vaccine. Thackston had both of her children vaccinated; one contracted the virus regardless. Also, a caption to a photo accompanying the story implied that the three children pictured, all members of a playgroup, were the same members of the playgroup deliberately exposed to the virus by their parents. This was not the case.
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A Pox on My Child: Cool!

Xavier Scheeler, 15 months, center, and brother Max, 2, back right, with their Alexandria play group. When one group member had chickenpox, it was an occasion for a party.
Xavier Scheeler, 15 months, center, and brother Max, 2, back right, with their Alexandria play group. When one group member had chickenpox, it was an occasion for a party. (By Tetona Dunlap -- The Washington Post)

The story warns against exposing adults who have never had chickenpox, as they are likely to get a more severe case than children, and pregnant women who could put their unborn babies at risk.

But Robert B. Shearin, chief of staff with Capitol Medical Group, a pediatric practice in Chevy Chase, said even children who get the disease naturally can contract it again. Shearin said both children and adults will likely be offered chickenpox boosters over the next few years because there is no such thing as lifetime immunity from the illness.

"The immunization is the way to go," said Shearin. He calls chickenpox parties very dangerous and says they represent an outdated way of thinking because it is impossible to predict how severe chickenpox will be in individual cases.

"We only have to have one child die of chickenpox to put this into perspective," Shearin said.

Still, not every doctor agrees. Andrea Falack said the pediatrician who treats her five children in Brooklyn, N.Y., called her to come in when another patient had just been there with the pox. (Her doctor and another doctor who also let a patient know when chickenpox was in the office either did not return phone calls or did not want to be quoted in this story).

Falack, who does not use vaccines, says she doesn't like the idea of her children ever being sick but believes it's better for children to get the chickenpox over with at a younger age. The doctor's visit didn't work, so she's still on the lookout. "If I know someone with chickenpox I'll expose the kids," Falack says.

Weeks after Thackston's four-day pox party, none of the children exposed had caught the illness. Still, she'd do it again.

"It's a little weird to help other kids get sick," she admits, but she believes it's the right thing to do, because the pox vaccine is "mediocre at best."

"People are trying to find another way to protect their kids," Thackston said. ยท

Shannon Henry, a former Washington Post staff writer, is working on her second book. She last wrote for the Health section about online moms. E-mail: health@washpost.com.


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