The suspected outbreak of measles among Amish residents in northeastern Knox County is now a confirmed outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed public health officials in Knox and Holmes counties last Thursday evening that test results were positive. The number of those currently infected with measles has increased to 16, and is to expected rise even higher.
The outbreak is the result of unvaccinated travelers who returned to Ohio after a humanitarian trip to the Philippines. Four of the 16 infected individuals were actually on the trip; the others are family members. All of the individuals reside in Knox County. Initially, two of the individuals were hospitalized in Holmes County, but they have been treated and released.
The Knox County Health Department conducted a free public clinic at St. Luke’s Community Center last Friday. Anyone born after 1957 who has never had the measles or has never received the measles vaccination is encouraged to get vaccinated, especially those who might have been in contact with any of the travelers or those currently with measles.
Last Thursday afternoon, medical staff with the health department vaccinated 136 people at a closed clinic in the Amish community where the affected individuals reside. A few families were turned away when the vaccine supplies were depleted; however, health department officials have indicated an additional 200 doses of vaccine have been received from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and will be offered at today’s clinics.
“The Amish who are family members and acquaintances of those who now have measles, have been extremely cooperative in a willingness to get vaccinated,” said Jackie Fletcher, RN, director of nursing. “And those who currently have measles have been staying home (self-quarantine).”
The trip to the Philippines was the first of several organized by Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) of Holmes County in response to the typhoon that hit the Philippines last November. CAM plans to send 400 volunteers on two-week trips during the next several months, according to Fletcher. The volunteers, who pay their own way, are helping to build houses. Several of the Amish travelers from Knox County did come to the health department to get a tetanus shot before taking the trip, but were unaware of the threat of measles. “The travelers have indicated that they would have requested the measles vaccine if they knew they needed it and would have definitely self-quarantined,” said Fletcher.
Public health officials in Holmes County are working with CAM officials to inform future travelers of the need to get the measles vaccine.
Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that is easily spread through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. The symptoms generally begin about 7-21 days after a person is infected, and include fever, runny nose, cough and a distinctive, blotchy, red rash all over the body. Measles is highly contagious and can be spread to others from four days before to four days after the rash appears. Anyone who is not immunized and gets exposed to the disease has a high likelihood of getting ill.
The measles vaccine is part of a triple dose vaccine that covers measles, mumps, and rubella and is commonly referred to as MMR. Children usually receive a dose at age one and another dose before they enter school.
The health departments in Knox and Holmes counties have been working closely with ODH and the CDC to investigate the measles cases which are uncommon in this area. There has not been a confirmed case of measles in Knox County for over 15 years. In the United States, measles was virtually eradicated in 2000, but public health officials have seen an increase in cases in recent years. Similar to the outbreak in Knox County, many of the measles outbreaks in the U.S. originate after an unvaccinated individual has traveled abroad and contracted the disease there. Then, when they return to this country, they can spread the disease to other unvaccinated individuals.