There's been another development in swine flu news — "swine flu parties," where people supposedly expose themselves to the virus on purpose. While the evidence is anecdotal — and may even just be a false rumor — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking it seriously.
Spokesman Tom Skinner tells NPR's Liane Hansen that the CDC has been getting calls for some time about swine flu parties, but so far hasn't found any evidence that they're actually occurring. Nonetheless, it has issued a recommendation on its Web site to avoid such gatherings.
"Certainly that is something that we would highly recommend not happen," he says. Even if the parties turn out to be urban legend, Skinner says, the CDC feels the prudent thing to do is to put out information warning against such events.
Aside from fielding direct inquiries, Skinner says the CDC has also been seeing questions about swine flu parties fly around social media like Twitter and Facebook. The questions seem to be coming mostly from parents of small children, he says.
Like chicken pox parties, where exposing a child to the disease is thought to establish immunity, potential swine flu party planners may hope to avoid a more serious illness later on. Skinner says that's nonsense.
"There's just no sense in [exposing] your child to a virus that has the potential to cause a lot of illness, particularly if your child has some sort of underlying health condition like asthma or diabetes," he says. "Influenza can be very serious."
Also, he says, there are a lot of viruses out there that mimic the flu. "While someone might be thinking that they're actually being exposed to the flu, they very well might not be."
Rather than attend contagious parties, Skinner recommends getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available. Meanwhile, the CDC is "doing everything we humanly, possibly can to educate people about how [the flu] is transmitted and what they can do to protect themselves." Which, given the rumors that have been swirling since the virus was first recognized last spring, has been a formidable task.
"It's been quite a ride," Skinner says.