Cedars-Sinai doctors made a public announcement Wednesday after some patients mused whether they should deliberately infect themselves with COVID-19 just to get it over with – their response is 100% no.
The idea isn’t new.
Back in 2009 when swine flu – novel influenza A (H1N1) virus – began circulating, experts in an NBC News article said if you’re invited to a “pox party,” do not attend.
Swine flu in the U.S. reached about 60 million cases from April 2009 to April 2010 in the U.S. Some 12,469 deaths were recorded in the U.S. during that time period.
Comparatively, there have been more than 2 million COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) cases, and 27,850 deaths related to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County alone.
Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has discouraged “chickenpox parties,” during which parents would intentionally expose unvaccinated children, hoping they’d get the disease and build immunities.
These “parties” were more common before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995 in the United States.
“There is no way to tell in advance how severe your child’s symptoms will be. So it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease. The best way to protect infants and children against chickenpox is to get them vaccinated,” the CDC says on its website.
Van Groningen and infectious disease expert Catherine Le, MD, co-director of the Cedars-Sinai COVID-19 Recovery Program, echoed the CDC’s sentiment, listing reasons why it’s problematic at best, and deadly at worst.
You Could Get Really Sick, Even If You Hear of People With Mild Cases
Dr. Nicole Van Groningen said even if it appears omicron appears to cause a milder illness – something still not established yet by the CDC – there is still the potential of experiencing severe illness.
“There is no guarantee you’ll have a mild case,” Van Groningen said. “Some people still get really sick and need to come to the hospital. Others feel really miserable at home. Some patients say it’s worse than the worst flu they ever had.”
She also said that while there are newer treatments and medications approved by the FDA that make it easier to battle COVID-19, they have been less effective against omicron.
Those medications are also for high-risk patients, and are in short supply, she said.
You Could Infect Someone Else Who Might Not Be Able to Handle It as Well
Cancer, transplant patients and people with weakened immune systems are susceptible to infection, including COVID-19. By deliberately getting infected with COVID-19, you may be healthy, but you may spread it to someone who can’t fight off the virus.
“It’s very hard to control,” Catherine Le, MD, said.
Le said, according to scientific data, the natural immunity one would build up by becoming infected does not provide any more immunity than a vaccine would.
In November, a CDC study found that people who had been immunized by the vaccine had stronger protection against COVID in the future than natural immunity alone.
Another problem? It’s not clear how long natural immunity lasts after someone has been infected with COVID-19. Davey Smith, MD, translational research virologist at UCSD said in a previous story with NBC that data shows there’s good protection after somebody has COVID for about six months.
Experts at John Hopkins also said to take into account variants. Just because your body reacted one way to an earlier variant or mutation doesn’t mean your immune system will react the same way to the delta variant.
As omicron and delta cases have risen, so have hospitalizations of young children.
Children are also at risk of developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) after being infected with COVID-19.
An NBC News analysis found record numbers of COVID-related pediatric hospitalizations in Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
In Riverside County, health officials reported an infant died after contracting COVID-19. Other health record information, such as underlying illness or specific age, were not included.
You Are Putting Yourself at Risk of Getting “Long Haul COVID”
“You don’t have to have COVID-19 really bad to get all these potentially really severe and debilitating symptoms that can last for over a year,” Le said. “A wide variety of people can get it, including adolescents. Young, healthy people make up a lot of our clinic.”
Le and her colleagues work within the COVID-19 Recovery Program and the Post-COVID-19 Cardiology Clinic at Cedars-Sinai.
She said they’ve seen many patients who were young and only had mild COVID-19 symptoms.
She also said “some long-COVID-19 patients of working age are on disability for at least six months” over long haul symptoms.
Long haul symptoms according to the CDC website can include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, tiredness or fatigue, brain fog, post-exertional malaise, headache and much more. See the full list of symptoms here.
The CDC confirmed that COVID cases don’t need to be severe at the time of infection to later become long-haul cases.
Some who had severe cases later develop heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain function problems, or autoimmune conditions. In cases of autoimmune conditions, the body’s own immune system attacks healthy cells, causing inflammation.
“That’s a huge impact on your life, and we have no idea if omicron will be any different,” Le said.
To sum it up, Le said if you’re looking for immunity, a vaccine is the best bet.
“If you’re searching for immunity, why not just get vaccinated?” Le said. “And anyone who is eligible for a booster shot should get one. Vaccination is the most potent weapon we have against this pandemic.”
A January 2022 study that included more than 1 million people also found that severe COVID-19 outcomes among people who were vaccinated were rare.
Some good news
A recent study of 70,000 people in the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system in Southern California from Nov. 30 to Jan. 1 found that a person hospitalized with the omicron variant of COVID-19 would on average spend three days less in the hospital than the average delta variant patient.
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