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Health and Medicine


Amish break with tradition to guard against measles outbreak
As measles epidemic spreads, Amish are relying more on vaccinations 
Story by SAM HENDREN


 
Ohio's rural Amish normally shun vaccinations, but a recent measles outbreak is driving them to clinics across Central Ohio.
Courtesy of Pat Williams, Flickr, CC
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In The Region:

In a handful of Ohio counties, 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.

From Ohio public radio station WOSU, Sam Hendren reports from the Knox county village of Danville.

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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. It’s attracting dozens of families who come in to be vaccinated against measles.

There’s two more of our girls coming, Ida and Kayda.

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 Danville clinic on a recent Thursday afternoon.

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.

Distributing Vaccine

The mobile clinics are critical to widespread vaccinations. Nurse Jacqueline Fletcher says the clinics make for shorter and safer travel on narrow county roads.

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 to have them travel to us.

Fletcher says health workers also go door-to-door looking for measles cases, sometimes finding whole families who 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 have seen them as high as 104.5, aches, pains.

Serious Outbreak

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 they need to run these clinics. 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-thousand 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," Weaver says. "I think it would be beneficial if everybody would do it, really."

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 and so far we have kept it confined to the Amish community.

Knox County has the most confirmed cases of measles...more than half of all the cases in Ohio. Four surrounding counties also report large outbreaks. Health officials are uncertain whether they have contained the outbreak.

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