THURSDAY, Oct. 22, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- While most people are doing all they can to avoid the swine flu, some groups of people are said to be actively seeking it out.
These are parents who are reportedly arranging swine flu "parties" -- similar to chicken pox or measles parties -- so their healthy children can be exposed to the virus through kids who are already sick with the H1N1 flu.
Health experts theorize that the rationale may be to give a child the swine flu while it's still relatively mild, before it mutates into something more virulent. But, so far, all indications point to the H1N1 virus staying as mild to moderate as when it first appeared in the spring.
Or perhaps parents think that the disease is somehow better than unknown side effects associated with the H1N1 vaccine. But, there appear to be no untoward side effects associated with the shot other than redness, tenderness and swelling at the injection site, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But health experts are universal in their condemnation of the practice of swine flu parties.
"Any time you willingly subject your children to an infectious disease, you run the risk of all sorts of complications," said Dr. Tamara Kuittinen, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "There's always a risk of giving them more than you bargained for. It may be dangerous."
Added Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital: "It's not anything I would advocate for swine flu or any flu. Most of the time the flu is a mild illness, but it can be severe. People die from H1N1 and from the regular flu."
Swine flu parties could prove particularly risky because the H1N1 flu, unlike seasonal flu, tends to target children and young adults. According to data collected by the CDC from 28 states from Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, nearly 24 percent of deaths were among people under age 25, about 65 percent of deaths were among those 25 to 64, and only 11.6 percent of the deaths were among people aged 65 and older.
During the same six-week period, 27 states reported 4,958 people hospitalized with H1N1 swine flu, and more than half -- 53 percent -- were under the age of 25.
Despite questions in some quarters about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine now being rolled out, the shot is actually the best way to protect your child against the swine flu, said Dr. Nathan Litman, director of pediatrics and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at The Children's Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.
"It should totally prevent them from acquiring influenza and, if they do get sick, they would have a milder illness," he said.
Vaccination will also prevent others from falling ill: Children who contract the swine flu at a party not only run the risk of getting sick themselves, they can also pass it on to others who might be at greater risk of complications, Litman added.
"When you have a good match between the vaccine and the virus circulating, you have 90 percent or more protection against the disease," Frenck said.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the swine flu, including the centers' take on swine flu parties.