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Ohio Fights To Contain Measles Outbreak Among Amish
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In a handful of counties northeast of Columbus public health officials are traveling back roads and setting up clinics in churches and town halls. They’re trying to contain a measles outbreak among the mostly unvaccinated Amish community.
The Knox County village of Danville calls itself “the gateway to Amish country.” It’s here that the county health department has set up a makeshift clinic. On a recent Thursday afternoon dozens of families come in to be vaccinated against measles.
Traditionally, the Amish avoid vaccinations. But now they see the toll that measles is taking on their tight-knit communities. Knox County Health spokeswoman Pam Palm says fear of measles brings more than a hundred people to the afternoon clinic.
“A lot of them don’t get immunized because of their holistic way of living but they’re seeing the numbers of people who are getting sick and they are seeing how sick they are getting so they are coming in to get immunized,” Palm says.
“Due to the outbreak and the fact that the Amish normally travel by buggy it’s far easier for us to bring the vaccine out to them than have them travel in to us,” says Fletcher.
A door-to-door approach
Fletcher says health workers also go door-to-door looking for measles cases, sometimes finding whole families have fallen ill.
“As soon as we saw these folks, they were just covered in a measles rash. They were sitting in a darkened room because it affects your eyes; your eyes feel very gritty and red and bothered by the light so they tend to sit in the dark. They have high temperatures: 102, 103, we’ve seen them as high as 104.5; aches and pains,” Fletcher says.
The outbreak began in late March after several Amish men returned from a trip overseas. They had gone to the Philippines – unvaccinated – to do disaster relief work. Once back in Ohio, the first cases arose. State epidemiologist Mary DiOrio says the Ohio Department of Health is supplying vaccine to affected counties in hopes of controlling the spread of the highly contagious disease.
“We’re working with them to make sure they get the vaccine that they need to run these clinics,” DiOrio says. “So it’s a lot of work that the local health departments have to do and we’re providing support to them as we can.”
More than 8,000 people have been vaccinated at the clinics, a sign that attitudes among the Amish are changing. Aden Weaver is an Amish father of 12 who believes taking the vaccine is worthwhile.
“Well I just think that it helps everybody to stay away from getting sick. That’s the way I feel about it. I think it would be beneficial to everybody if everybody would do it, really,” Weaver says.
Clearly the fight against the disease is not over. But Jacqueline Fletcher believes health workers have made significant progress.
“We’re trying to contain this outbreak. The idea is to get ahead of this disease get it confined and keep it confined. So far we have kept it confined to the Amish community,” Fletcher says.
Knox County has the most confirmed cases of measles which account for more than half of all the cases in Ohio. Four surrounding counties also report large outbreaks. Health officials are uncertain whether they’ve contained the disease.