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Kentucky governor says he exposed his children to chickenpox

Gov. Matt Bevin believes parents who are worried about chickenpox should have their children vaccinated, but that it shouldn't be mandated by the government.
Image: Matt Bevin
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin speaks in the Capitol building, in Frankfort, Ky, on Feb 28, 2019.Bryan Woolston / AP file
/ Source: Associated Press

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin says he deliberately exposed his children to chickenpox so they would catch the highly contagious disease and become immune.

During a Tuesday interview on Bowling Green radio station WKCT, Bevin said his children were "miserable for a few days" after contracting chickenpox but said "they all turned out fine."

Bevin and his wife, Glenna, have nine children, four adopted.

The Republican governor said parents worried about chickenpox should have their children vaccinated. But he said government shouldn't mandate the vaccination.

Varicella-zoster virions from a patient with chickenpox. Before the chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995, an average of 4 million people got varicella, 10,500 to 13,000 were hospitalized and 100 to 150 died each year, according to the CDC. Dr. Erskine Palmer / CDC via AP

Kentucky requires that children entering kindergarten be vaccinated for chickenpox, but parents may seek religious exemptions or provide proof that a child already had the disease.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection. It's spread by touching the skin blisters caused by the Varicella-zoster virus or by breathing in tiny droplets when an infected person talks or exhales.

Before the vaccine became available in 1995, an estimated 8,000 up to 18,000 people were hospitalized each year with chickenpox and about 100 to 150 people died each year from the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most healthy people recover completely from chickenpox but serious complications can include pneumonia, encephalitis or sepsis infection. A recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics described an 11-month-old who suffered a stroke after catching chickenpox from an older sibling.

Being vaccinated against chickenpox can protect others with weakened immune systems or very young babies too young to be vaccinated from catching the infection. And being vaccinated against chickenpox can also protect someone from developing shingles, a painful flare-up of Varicella-zoster virus, later in life.

Bevin's comments followed reports this week of a chickenpox outbreak at a Kentucky Catholic school.