November 7, 2011 by staff
Spurred by reports aired in the past week about parents turning to Facebook to procure items said to be infected with chickenpox, U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin hopes to make it clear that trafficking in infectious diseases is illegal — as well as unsafe.
“If you are engaged in this type of behavior, you’re not only potentially exposing innocent people to dangerous viruses and illnesses and diseases, you’re also exposing yourself potentially to federal criminal prosecution,” Martin told The Associated Press.
According to Martin, it is a federal crime to send diseases or viruses across state lines, whether through the U.S. Postal Service or private services like FedEx or UPS. The same laws that prohibit, say, the mailing the of anthrax also apply to infectious diseases: Offenders, if convicted, could face up to 20 years in prison.
The hubbub comes in the wake of the growing popularity of so-called chickenpox parties, organized by parents in order to expose their children to chickenpox and thereby strengthen their immune systems. As WSMV-TV in Nashville reported Thursday, parents without entree to such events are increasingly turning to internet dealers purporting to sell lollipops, among other items, infected with the chickenpox virus.
One such dealer is Wendy Werkit of Nashville, who on Facebook offered, WSMV-TV says, a “fresh batch of pox in Nashville shipping of suckers, spit and Q-tips available tomorrow 50 dollars via PayPal.” Werkit says the money was used to cover the shipping costs of the lollipops that had been licked by her children. “They can’t get (chickenpox) the normal way anymore of just naturally catching and just naturally getting the immunity for life,” Werkit said. Martin finds the prospect repulsive: “Can you imagine getting a package in the mail from this complete stranger that you know from Facebook because you joined a group, and say here, drink this purported spit from some other kid?” Legal and safety issues aside, some pediatricians wonder whether mailed lollipops make for effective incubators. “If there’s a very high load on the virus and shipped very quickly, it’s theoretically possible,” Isaac Thomsen, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, told the AP. “But it’s probably not an effective way to transmit it. It typically has to be inhaled.”
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