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Measles outbreak complicates 2 big Amish events

SHILOH, Ohio (AP) - Visitors from around the world to two upcoming events in Ohio's Amish country could come away with more than they bargained for, health officials fear - a case of measles from the nation's largest outbreak in two decades.

The outbreak, with more than 360 cases, started after Amish travelers to the Philippines contracted measles this year and returned home to rural Knox County, where it spread thanks to a lower rate of vaccination among the Amish and the difficulty public health authorities had in getting the word out to largely rural communities where phones are few and the Internet is nonexistent.

Health officials believe the outbreak is slowing in Ohio thanks to vaccination clinics and door-to-door visits by public health nurses. But Horse Progress Days, an international showcase of horse-drawn equipment scheduled for Friday and Saturday, is expected to draw more than 20,000 Amish and others from around the globe. And a large annual auction that raises money to help Amish families pay medical bills for children with birth defects is scheduled for Saturday.

Authorities are trying to spread education - and vaccination.

"Very easily someone could come for these events, be exposed to someone who didn't know that they were sick, and travel home, and start another outbreak in another community somewhere in the United States or overseas," said Dr. D.J. McFadden, health commissioner in Holmes County, site of Horse Progress Days and home to one of the country's largest Amish populations.

The county has 54 cases of measles and one hospitalization. Most of its Amish were already vaccinated before the outbreak, McFadden said.

Symptoms of measles, which is caused by a virus, include fevers, coughs, rashes and pinkeye. Before widespread vaccinations in the U.S. beginning in the 1950s, 450 to 500 people died each year, 48,000 were hospitalized and nearly a thousand people suffered brain damage or deafness. Though nearly eradicated in the United States, measles remains common in many parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa.

The Amish eschew many conveniences of modern life. Their religion does not prevent them from seeking vaccinations, but because their children don't attend traditional public schools, vaccinations are not required and therefore not routine.

For Amish who aren't vaccinated, Ohio health officials say, reasons include religious objections, unwillingness to shoulder the cost because they don't have insurance, and not seeing the need for a disease that isn't common.

Outreach efforts to deliver vaccinations and education have been hampered by communication - few Amish have phones - transportation and the strapped resources of rural counties without big health departments, said Richland County public health nurse Sue McFarren.

But when they're contacted, most Amish have cooperated, she said. Officials have distributed about 10,500 vaccines in Ohio, about half in Holmes County in central Ohio. The other affected areas are mostly, but not all, nearby - in Crawford, Ashland, Coshocton, Highland, Holmes, Richland, Stark and Wayne counties.

"They have been excellent about quarantining themselves," McFarren said. "If they have a case, they stay home until it's run its course."

Amish dairy farmer Daniel Weaver got a vaccination during a clinic at a pole barn near Shiloh in northern Ohio on July 25, concerned because he travels often.

"The Amish in general are not reacting that much differently than the rest of the population," said Weaver, 48, of nearby Shreve. "It's just because of our tight proximity, it creates a different effect."

Several Mennonite families visited the same clinic, arriving one after the other in horse-drawn buggies with fluorescent orange triangles affixed to the rear. These "horse-and-buggy" Mennonites live a lifestyle similar to some Amish, though many have phones and other modern conveniences.

Mennonite dairy farmer Samuel Zimmerman, who got his vaccine after hearing about the outbreak, said he'd never really had an opinion about vaccines before.

"I guess when I was growing up we were hale and hardy, and we didn't think about vaccinations," said Zimmerman, 36, of Blooming Grove.

Organizers of Horse Progress days said they are distributing letters to international visitors warning them of potential measles exposure. Past events have drawn non-Amish from countries including Australia, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden and New Zealand.

Posters will provide information about measles and encourage people with symptoms to go home, and a hospital will provide free vaccinations Friday, general coordinator Daniel Wengerd said.

Saturday's auction for the Ohio Crippled Children's Fund is being held at the Kidron Auction House in Wayne County. An auctioneer there said he wasn't familiar with officials' concerns.

The Ohio outbreak is the biggest in the U.S. since 1994. Overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are tracking 529 cases in 20 states, with the next biggest outbreaks in California and New York, none of which involve the Amish.

Join the discussion

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Beverly Doyle July 01 2014 at 3:01 PM

Just one thought for those of you calling these folks "idiots" and other not-so-nice names: why the insults? Are you incapable of stating an opinion without putting someone else down? Be concerned, take a stand, disagree, but there is no need to be disagreeable. The nastiness of posters on AOL blogs is why HuffPo won't let us comment on their blogs without Facebook entry.. Just sayin' . . .

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13 replies
Kelly Hamilton July 01 2014 at 2:43 PM

I would like to know how an Amish person got to the Philippines. Probably in a horse-drawn plane.

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14 replies
katieryan5555 July 01 2014 at 3:05 PM

Most people here seem to be missing the big picture. This is about a Measles Outbreak.

The danger posed to Humans from this are severe. Religion and location have very little to do with the fact that Measles exits.

What we can do is follow the same precautions that were given to us by an earlier generation and stop sniping at each other.

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2 replies
schlauger1 katieryan5555 July 01 2014 at 4:22 PM

I had my now 22-year-old daughter vaccinated for everything available. She is healthy, a college student, and expecting a baby in August. She is the light of my life and healthy as healthy can be. I understand the fear of injecting toxins into a small child, but I'm glad my ex wife and I allowed it.

I'm 59 and had all of the shots available when I was a child. Thanks Mom and Dad. And Dad was a vegetarian health nut. I eat some animal things, the less toxic from injections, the better. I am amenable to prevention.

The things cropping up in the world, again, are not things to ignore. JMO, of course.

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1 reply
mhdjl schlauger1 July 01 2014 at 4:50 PM

I had most of the childhood illnesses - measles, German measles, chicken pox, mumps, fifth virus - as a child. There were no shots for these back then. I do have the scar on my arm from the small pox vaccine and remember being given the polio vaccine at school (it was on a sugar cube).

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crazy ray katieryan5555 July 02 2014 at 9:23 AM

You're missing the big picture. There wouldn't be a problem if these morons got vaccinated.

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shell5223 July 01 2014 at 2:45 PM

Mike you are an idiot!

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Raejean July 01 2014 at 3:26 PM

It's just as much the non-Amish avoiding vaccinations for their children who are responsible for these threats spreading.

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4 replies
Mike July 01 2014 at 2:34 PM

Death and destruction will come from those who claim to be the biggest Christians.

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11 replies
Ricardo July 01 2014 at 2:56 PM

God Bless the Amish people.

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Joe July 01 2014 at 3:16 PM

This is just another example of religion putting the larger population at risk.

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13 replies
Kate July 01 2014 at 3:31 PM

I hope they can get it contained quickly, because while for most of it it's just an inconvenience, in pregnant women it can be devastating, depending on the strain that's out there.

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1 reply
Hello Beautiful Kate July 01 2014 at 8:21 PM

So true, Kate!

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markschupp July 01 2014 at 3:24 PM

If you have not met the Amish, leave your negative comments, in your own infested head.

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1 reply
cgoslingpbc markschupp July 01 2014 at 11:25 PM

markschupp - I have met Amish people and they are intelligent, humane, diligent, and totally wrong about supernatural events and beings. They are also wrong about their approach to health care. Their reluctance to get vaccinations and most other medical treatment and medical insurance endangers them and the rest of us. Nice people do not always make smart decisions.

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