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How many licks does it take to get chicken pox? Parents trade vaccines for lollipops

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For parents who treat vaccines like the plague, chicken pox parties are passé. The latest way to expose kids to the virus is via mail-order lollipop.

You read that right: candy on a stick, licked by a stranger's infected kid.

A shipment of suckers tainted with a "fresh batch of pox" cost $50 a pop, reported. (Or if worried about candy consumption, anti-vaccine parents can order just plain, old spit from an allegedly infected child.)

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But authorities are already cracking down on the get-sick-quick scheme. In Nashville, Tennessee, federal prosecutor Jerry Martin warned parents that chicken pox candy is not only bizarre – it's illegal.

"Can you imagine getting a package in the mail from this complete stranger that you know from Facebook because you joined a group, and say here, drink this purported spit from some other kid?" he told the Associated Press.

Aside from the "ick" factor, chicken pox lollipops may not even do the trick.

"If there's a very high load on the virus and shipped very quickly, it's theoretically possible," said Isaac Thomsen, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. "But it's probably not an effective way to transmit it. It typically has to be inhaled."

But used lollipops could spread more dangerous viruses, such as hepatitis, he added.

News of the chicken pox candy surfaced in a Nashville after a radio interview with Wendy Werkit, who reportedly advertised the tainted lollipops on a Facebook page entitled "Find a Pox Party in your Area." Kids can no longer get chickenpox "the normal way ... just naturally catching and just naturally getting the immunity for life," Ms. Werkit told radio station WSMV.

But complications from chicken pox are "natural" too, like death. However, chicken-pox-related deaths have basically been eradicated with the introduction of a chicken pox vaccine, according to a recent report in The Globe and Mail.

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Yet, that hasn't convinced the administrator of the Facebook group " Find A Pox Party Near You" (not to be confused with the Facebook page advertising mail-order chicken pox lollipops, which has been deleted).

"We, as parents, know what we're doing," wrote the administrator of Find a Pox Party Near You. "Healthy kids don't die from chicken pox, and our children are healthy, generally with extremely strong immune systems."

Did your kids get the chicken pox vaccine? What do you think of pox parties or other non-vaccine methods of immunizing kids from the chicken pox?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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