In this episode of Global Edge Talk, we will talk about coronavirus cases linked to COVID-19 parties.
Alex and Dr. Wendy Tong, MD MHA, talk about the recent events related to the COVID-19 pandemic happening all over the world and discuss topics like healthcare, eldercare, and keeping your loved ones safe.
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Alex – Washington state was in the news when COVID first appeared in the US. Yesterday, Washington was again in the news because a new source of outbreak has been identified in Washington…COVID parties! These are parties organized so that non-infected people mingle with infected people with the hopes of quickly acquiring the infection, recovering and gaining immunity. There are over 100 new confirmed cases of COVID from people who attended these parties and 1 death. In this time of social distancing and quarantine, where does the idea of having such an event come from?
Wendy – Crazy as it sounds, the idea comes from chickenpox parties when before the chickenpox vaccine was available, parents who had a child with active chickenpox would have non-infected children mingle with the infected child. Chickenpox is so contagious that the kids would quickly catch it and the hopes were for the child to recover and develop lifelong immunity. Because children have a milder form of chickenpox than adults, the idea was to get infected, quickly get over it so that the child wouldn’t have a more serious infection if they got it later on in life. And of course, there are still people who get serious long term complications and die from chickenpox.
Alex – can this chickenpox party theory apply to COVID?
Wendy – No but first, let me point out that chickenpox parties are still like playing Russian roulette. There is still a small yet unknown risk of developing serious complications to include death. One of the biggest differences between chickenpox and COVID is the obvious and unmistakable evidence for infection with chickenpox – the blistery red rash that is intensely itchy for chickenpox whereas for COVID, the signs and symptoms of infection are much more vague and people may even be asymptomatic and still be actively infecting others in the community unknowingly. There is still so much we don’t know about COVID…could a one-time infection confer life long immunity? could there be delayed long term complications?
Alex – Is it primarily younger people who are attending these COVID parties?
Wendy – Yes.
Alex – What do you have to say to a young person to caution them against attending one of these parties?
Wendy – Being young doesn’t mean you are going to develop immunity after an infection and have lifelong immunity from it. In one of our prior podcasts, we talked about how COVID can present as a stroke in young and otherwise previously healthy people in their 30s.
Alex – Chickenpox parties have fallen out of favor why?
Wendy – Chickenpox parties have gone to the wayside because the chickenpox vaccine is widely available and much safer and more effective. I’d recommend waiting for the COVID vaccine. Even then, when we have a COVD vaccine created, I have a word of caution about any new vaccine that hasn’t been used long enough for us to figure out such things as possible long term side effects or how long the protection lasts? We don’t know if a COVID vaccine would confer lifelong immunity like the chickenpox vaccine or if it’ll just be seasonal for a few selected strain like the flu vaccine.
Alex – I tested positive for COVID and have IgG antibodies. Does that mean I have immunity to COVID for the rest of my life?
Wendy – the honest answer is nobody knows. However, if we are to look at the 2002 SARS experience which belongs to the coronavirus family as well and had a similar pattern of spread, host interaction, and symptoms, we could maybe extrapolate a likely forecast. There was a study that followed healthcare workers in China who had developed IgG antibodies and tracked their levels for 13 years. The study found their levels peaked about 2-3 years from the infection then declined and only persisted up to 12 years.
To listen to Dr. Wendy’s full Global Edge Talk episode on Coronavirus Outbreak and Healthcare System in the US click HERE.
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