Many Americans are doing all they can to avoid the H1N1 virus. But talk in the news and on the Internet suggests some people might actually be seeking exposure at get-togethers dubbed "swine flu parties." And U.S. health authorities are taking those reports seriously.
The H1N1 flu virus has infected hundreds of thousands of people, raising fears around the world.
With so much concern over the swine flu, it is hard to believe anyone would want to get it on purpose. But enter "swine flu parties" in an Internet search, and you will see, the idea is out there.
On flu and parenting Web sites, the parties are being debated as a way to gain immunity to more severe versions of the virus that might emerge later. But doctors say: stay away.
"We have no confirmation that anyone has actually done this, but there is certainly lots of chatter on the Internet, and so we know that people are asking these questions," Dr. Stephen Ostroff stated. "It just is not a good idea."
Swine flu parties are the latest version of chickenpox parties, where parents encourage their kids to share lollipops, spoons or whistles to spread the disease and get immunity.
One parent turned to the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube for his pox party invitation.
There also are a number of Internet groups for parents hoping to locate pox parties, often to avoid vaccinating their children. Some believe vaccines can cause serious health problems.
But Washington area resident Peggy Fox, mother of two, says applying pox party logic to the swine flu is crazy. "You do not know how bad that is going to be. There have been children who have died from the swine flu," she said.
Fox co-manages the blog DC Moms Like Me. When a post on the topic went up on the site, Fox says other moms had a similar reaction. "I think most moms are level-headed and realize that that is not a good thing to do. But just the fact that the idea came up, that we know that there are people out there thinking about this, seemed to be something that people want to talk about," she said.
Some people are even trying to make money on the idea. If you log on to Zazzle, you can order a t-shirt, mug, even a tie promoting swine flu parties and their offer of a free H1N1 virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strongly opposed the parties.
CDC spokesman Christopher Cox says though the idea is well-intentioned, it is not a good way to protect against serious illness. "Influenza is unpredictable,” he said. “There is no way to determine how it is going to react among any one person or group of people, so for those reasons, people cannot really account for what is going to happen if they go into a situation with the intention of getting H1N1."
Cox says the best step to protection is vaccination.
Fox had her family get the vaccine and advises other moms to do the same. She says protecting your child from the flu is already hard enough. "It is everywhere. So you do not need to have a party to get the swine flu. Just go to school," she said.