Facts, not Fantasy

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Harpocrates Speaks: The Sequelae of Pox

A follow up to a post by Todd W.  And I am recovering beautifully from my surgery thank you.

The Sequelae of Pox

A couple weekends ago, something of a firestorm erupted among skeptical bloggers. Namely, the news about parents sending pox-laden lollipops through the mail. It was covered by Mike the Mad Biologist, Emily Willingham, Reuben, Tara Smith, Orac and Phil Plait. Largely, the various bloggers, myself included, condemned the parents in the original story because they were knowingly sending infectious material in the mail.

Some folks in the comments of the various articles made the observation that every day, people lick envelopes, handle packages in perhaps less than sterile conditions and so, perhaps unwittingly, leave unintended presents for the recipients, not to mention the delivery personnel. How is that any different from what these parents have done?

First off, I will readily admit that what the parents were doing probably would not lead to anyone contracting chicken pox. Since the virus does not remain viable for very long at all in the environment, it would most likely be rendered harmless given the amount of time it takes the package to be mailed. Even if the pox package managed to reach its target quickly, fomites like lollipops and spit-soaked rags also are unlikely to cause an infection, as the virus is primarily spread via the respiratory system. The oral route is a bit rough on the bug, and it would likely be destroyed before it could actually cause an infection.

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