Remember when it was impolite to talk politics or religion in mixed company?
Today, it feels like that’s changed to health care and food choices. We need to stop being so polite.
We were faced with that problem very recently when a birthday party attended by my six-year-old Betty included a child with chickenpox.
Remember when your parents invited kids with chickenpox to your house, so you could get them, too? Then our parents were done with it and we were immunized for life.
Today, immunizations offered to parents of newborns, infants and toddlers includes a chicken pox vaccine. You get it at 12 months and then five-years-old.
It’s why, when this child arrived at the birthday party, small red scars visible from the neck up, mild panic set into some parents.
At first, I thought, “Oh good lord, we’re all being exposed to The Plague! Run, run for your lives!”
I have three children, and this is the first sign of chickenpox I’ve seen in seven years. By the time I was seven years old, the vast majority of my friends had contracted — and beaten — the illness.
It was so out of place to see this child with blisters, that it was easy to overreact.
All the kids had fun, they’ve all been home for about a week now, and nobody has shown any adverse effects from the experience.
Now, I never got the chance to ask questions. I would have liked to have asked if this child — let’s use the name Drue — was vaccinated. Maybe Drue had been vaccinated, and the chickenpox was a 1 in a million fluke.
Perhaps Drue has an allergy to vaccines, or another underlying health condition that makes vaccination impossible.
That would make Drue the poster child for herd immunity. If we all get our children vaccinated, there’s less chance poor, little Drue is exposed to pathogens more harmful than chickenpox.
I would have also liked to have known if Drue was still contagious. I’m sure Drue was past that stage, because Drue was absent for a couple of days, and then returned to school midweek (just in time for the party).
Plus, Drue showed no signs of the incessant scratching or lethargy that I remember from having chickenpox.
That tells me, hopefully, that Drue’s parents kept Drue from school long enough to recover.
Besides, the school’s reaction would have likely been much stronger if Drue was contagious. As it was, the principal took a rather strong position.
Drue’s chickenpox was so alarming, the school sent out an email blast to all parents alerting them to the situation.
Can you imagine your school doing that in the 1980s?
It might sound as if I’m against the chickenpox vaccine, but that’s not true at all. All my kids have been immunized, and I’m a believer in the flu shot, too.
But I was surprised when — roughly six years ago, now — the nurse explained that our oldest daughter would get a chickenpox vaccine.
“Really?” I remember asking. “You vaccinate for that, too?” It felt like a laundry list of diseases were now included in childhood immunizations, and I didn’t think chickenpox necessitated another jab in our baby’s arm.
The nurse explained it this way: if we can eliminate it, why wouldn’t we?
“But the dangers of chickenpox must be small?”
Well, yes and no. It’s not a pandemic, but it can cause pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and bacterial infections of the skin, Healthlink BC’s website says.
“Encephalitis can lead to seizures, deafness or brain damage. About 1 in 3,000 adults will die from the infection,” the website says.
That’s why it would’ve been polite for Drue’s parents to give the birthday party hosts the heads-up that Drue would still like to come, and wouldn’t infect anyone else.
My biggest concern was, what if Drue came into contact with someone — say, a grandparent or a sick relative — who could’ve been placed at risk?
Yes, I know, a sick, elderly relative is at risk from the common cold, but it still feels like an important consideration.
It should’ve been up to the hosts to say, “OK, we trust you. Drue is still welcome.” Or to politely ask that Drue stay home.
Heck, if we are headed to someone else’s house, we regularly tell our friends if the kids are sick, and give them the option of rescheduling the playdate or dinner party.
That’s where that “too polite to talk about” idea comes back to me.
I was too polite to ask if Drue was well enough to be at school or the party. I was too polite to ask if Drue had some underlying condition that prevented immunization.
If the other parents had known the answers to those questions, it would have made the site of chickenpox a lot less jarring.
Instead, we’re left to think that if Drue isn’t immunized for something like chickenpox, perhaps Drue is also at risk of measles, mumps and rubella — and we can't ignore that in British Columbia today.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.