Claim: The California Department of Public Health has issued a warning against measles parties.
Example: [Collected via Twitter, February 2015]
Parents are having measles parties instead of vaccinating children ... (Seriously, parents?!?)
Origins: In February 2015, a number of news outlets reported "measles parties" (purposeful gatherings during which uninfected children are intentionally exposed to measles in a bid to sicken them) were occurring in California in the midst of a then-current outbreak of the illness. The idea was not an entirely new one, as rumors of "chicken pox parties" circulated for years before the introduction of a chicken pox vaccine. In both scenarios, parents purportedly aimed to deliberately infect children with once-common childhood diseases in an effort to ensure resultant immunity was achieved within a convenient age range. (In the years before a vaccines was available for chicken pox, parents often hoped the near inevitable virus would sweep through the home while children were young enough to recover quickly and without infecting infants.)
In a 2015 measles outbreak traced to Disneyland, more than
Fox News' blog, for example, repeated an on-air iteration of the rumor:
Dr. Philippa Cheetham explained that the idea of measles parties came from chicken pox parties that began in the 1980s. She said that parents at that time wanted "to mix children who had chicken pox, with children who did not have chicken pox to try and increase exposure as a way of building up natural immunity."
Many parents are keeping their kids up to date on shots, but others avoid vaccinations of all kinds, at all costs. Some Bay Area parents are taking this idea to the extreme by holding a "measles party."
California's Department of Public Health released a statement saying it does not recommend intentionally exposing kids to measles. In the meantime, the CDC reports there are over
While measles and chicken pox were both at one time common childhood illnesses, a vaccine for the latter virus is a fairly recent development. As such, measles was rarer in recent decades than chicken pox, and measles eradication was declared in the U.S. in 2000. Only
Furthermore, all iterations of the claim lacked any substantive evidence of the existence of measles parties outside anyone's imaginations. No timeframe was supplied in any of the articles or segments, the locality in which they purportedly occurred ("the Bay Area") was broad, and even vague references to any specific incidents involving a real-life
We searched for any public health bulletins from the California Department of Public Health matching the news claims but found none. The agency subsequently confirmed to us that no measles party warning had been issued by them prior to news coverage of the purported trend. Further, a California health official explained to us before the rumor circulated, a news outlet called to inquire whether the department had received any reports about measles parties. When a representative stated no such reports had been received, the reporter asked about the agency's position on measles parties and was (predictably) told public health officials advised against them.
It's important to note the subsequent comment came in response to a reporter's question about what the agency advised if measles parties were a real trend, not because they were a real trend. Furthermore, the news story was frequently framed as reporting on an advisory released by the Department of Public Health, when in fact news outlets contacted that agency about a putative public health phenomenon and then proceeded to ask the agency's hypothetical position on that largely non-existent phenomenon.
After the claim about measles parties was widely aggregated across several news websites, the California Department of Health released the following statement reiterating that not only did it consider measles parties inadvisable, but it had no information about the actual "background or frequency" of such events:
Lupkin, Sydney. "US Measles Outbreak Growing, CDC Says." ABCNews.com. 2 February 2015.