CINCINNATI – The high school senior who went to court to challenge a health-department restriction over chickenpox at his Walton school has come down with the illness, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Christopher Wiest of Covington said Jerome Kunkel, 18, got sick with chickenpox last week, nearly two months after the Northern Kentucky health department issued its order to control an outbreak at two small parochial schools in Boone County.
“He’s fine. He’s a little itchy,” Wiest said.
In January, chickenpox broke out at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and Assumption Academy, its high school. The schools and its church are affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X, a conservative branch of Roman Catholicism that rejects Vatican II reforms.
Nearly 90 percent of the schools’ students have religious exemptions against vaccinations. The exemption form warns that the health department can restrict school attendance in case of an infectious disease outbreak.
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Kunkel, his classmates and their families object to the chickenpox vaccine because it is made in laboratory-generated cells taken from a fetus aborted in London in 1966.
As the number of chickenpox cases grew at the schools, the health department restricted nonvaccinated and nonimmune students to prevent the spread. The department first prohibited participation in extracurricular activities, then on March 14 ordered those students to stay home from school until at least 21 days after the last case.
Kunkel, an Assumption senior, sued in Boone County Circuit Court, claiming the order is a violation of his constitutionally protected exercise of religion. Two dozen other students who also had been banned from school joined Kunkel’s case.
While typically a mild disease, chickenpox can cause complications including bacterial infections, pneumonia or encephalitis or the infection or inflammation of the brain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chickenpox vaccine came into regular use in 1996.
Wiest noted during an April 1 hearing that the Sacred Heart community regularly celebrates Mass together and shares meals on Sundays, so school-attendance restrictions would not prevent the spread of chickenpox.
Tuesday, Wiest said: “About half my clients have come down with it since we filed the case. … I flat-out told the moms and dads the quickest path to resolving this is having them contract chickenpox.” A bout with chickenpox confers immunity to the illness.
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Wednesday, the health department expressed concern about Wiest’s observation, pointing out that people who contract chickenpox can expose others to the virus before the disease becomes apparent with its telltale skin eruptions.
“Encouraging the spread of an acute infectious disease in a community demonstrates a callous disregard for the health and safety of friends, family, neighbors, and unsuspecting members of the general public,” said a health department statement. “A person who has contracted chickenpox can be infectious for up to two days before experiencing the rash that is associated with the virus.
“Control measures, such as restricted school attendance, participation in extracurricular activities, and instructing those who have symptoms to avoid contact with others, are designed to prevent unvaccinated people who have been exposed to the virus from infecting members of the general public while they are infectious,” the statement said.
Judge James R. Schrand ruled against Kunkel, who appealed the decision. The Kentucky Court of Appeals has yet to decide. The school-attendance ban remains in effect.
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