More than a dozen members of the normally vaccine-adverse Amish community are waiving their religious inclination after being afflicted with the potentially fatal measles virus in central Ohio.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this week that at least 16 cases of the measles are present around the Knox County village of Danville. Health department officials vaccinated 136 people Thursday and were expecting an even larger turnout on Friday, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The outbreak was first discovered earlier this week when four members of a local Amish community returned from a trip to the Philippines. Each member was unvaccinated and, upon offering humanitarian aid to typhoon victims in the Pacific country, contracted the virus. At least 20,000 people in the Philippines have been infected with measles and at least 50 have died as health officials have struggled to contain the spreading.
Pam Palm, a spokeswoman for the Knox County, Ohio Health Department told NBC News that Ohio is trying to avoid the same fate.
“Not getting immunizations has been the way the Amish have felt in the past, but they certainly have responded in this situation,” she said.
The four returning Amish are believed to have infected more than ten others, ranging in age from to 2 to 48, Palm added, although definitive tests are still pending.
Small Amish communities quietly exist in secluded areas around the US, but perhaps most prominently in the farmlands of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A deeply religious community of just under 300,000, the Amish are known for their simple dress, long beards, and traveling in horse-carriages along rural roadways. They reject the notion of modern technology, believing that traditional work, like their reliance on Pennsylvania Dutch and community relations, is one of the benchmarks of religious devotion.
The Amish do not specifically prohibit vaccination, although a 2011 study from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that only a fraction of Amish children have received immunizations compared to the general public.
“The reasons that Amish parents resist immunizations mirror reasons that non-Amish parents resist immunizations,” the study concluded. “Even in America’s closed religious communities, the major barrier to vaccination is concern over adverse effects of vaccinations. If 85% of Amish parents surveyed accept some immunizations, they are a dynamic group that may be influenced to accept preventative care. Underimmunization in the Amish population must be approached with emphasis on changing parental perceptions of vaccines in addition to ensuring access to vaccines.”
The Amish community in question initially planned to send another group of humanitarians to the Philippines to help with the ongoing aid efforts. Whether that has changed since the measles outbreak is unknown, although health officials have requested that anyone who does travel to the Philippines quarantine themselves for 21 days to prevent any bacteria from spreading.
“We can’t stop people from going to another country,” Palm said.
Measles has long been considered to be eliminated as a threat to US populations. Since 2010, though, there have been 160 cases around the nation. In 2014 alone there have been 129 confirmed cases in 13 states, Ohio being the most recent. Many of the cases were congregated in New York City and California among travelers who were either visiting the US or returning home.
“Vaccines are one of history’s most successful public health tools for preventing serious disease and death,” Jackie Fletcher director of nursing at the Knox County Health Department, told the Newark Advocate. “Unfortunately, our success also means that many parents don’t appreciate the importance of childhood’s immunizations, because they have never witnessed the diseases. These recent outbreaks are a good reminder that diseases like measles are only a plane ride away.”