MOUNT VERNON - The ongoing measles outbreak in north central Ohio has reached more than 160 cases in a six county area with 105 confirmed cases in Knox County. The other affected counties include Ashland, Coshocton, Holmes, Richland and Wayne.
Public health officials are working hard to contain the disease which has affected more people in Ohio in the last six weeks than were affected nationwide in all of last year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is the largest outbreak of measles in the U.S. in 18 years.
The outbreak stems from unvaccinated travelers who became infected while in the Philippines and unknowingly spread the disease to family and friends when theyreturned to the U.S.
Since discovering the outbreak in late April, the clinic staff with the Knox County Health Department has been following up on each reported case of measles andinterviewing all suspected cases to determine possible contacts. Most of that work has been done in-person, at households throughout the county.
Additionally, health department staff has been busy conducting clinics offering the MMR vaccine which, if given before someone is exposed, will prevent the measles. Since late April, more than 1,700 doses of the MMR vaccine have been given to Knox County residents. More than 8,000 doses have been administered in the six north-central Ohio counties with a confirmed case of measles.
The measles virus is highly contagious and spreads so easily that people who are not immune will probably get it when they come close to someone who is infected. Measles is spread through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. The droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air can remain “alive and active” on inanimate objects for up to two hours.
So far, everyone infected with measles has been in the Amish population, yet public health officials know the disease could jump to the non-Amish population anytime.
“The Amish population in Knox County has been very cooperative in getting vaccinated or self-reporting (if they have symptoms) or staying home if they do get the measles,” said Julie Miller, health commissioner with the Knox County Health Department. Yet, there’s a good chance that someone who doesn’t know they have been exposed will pass the virus on to the non-Amish population.
“We’ve been getting calls from people who want to know if it is safe to travel to Amish Country,” said Miller. “The easy answer is ‘yes’ if you’ve been vaccinated. And if you haven’t been vaccinated, you should be, regardless of where you are going.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, that goes for all activities this summer.
“With high school and college graduations and graduation parties leading folks to travel across our state and across the U.S., we want to remind Ohioans to keep themselves healthy at these celebrations and to make sure that they are up-to-date on their immunizations,” said ODH State Epidemiologist Dr. Mary DiOrio. “We need to keep in mind that travel can present opportunities for exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles.”
The MMR vaccine is available by appointment at the Knox County Health Department. To make an appointment, call 399-8009. The health department will conduct a MMR clinic on June 5 from 5- 7 p.m. at St. Luke’s Community Center. The clinic is open to the public and there is no charge for the vaccine.
The MMR vaccine is recommended for anyone born after 1957 that has never had the measles or has never been vaccinated. Adults born after 1957 need one dose of MMR vaccine; children need two doses. During a community outbreak, it is recommended that adults, who have received only one dose of MMR vaccine, get a second dose. Adults traveling overseas should get a second dose of MMR vaccine and all healthcare workers should have two doses of MMR vaccine.
“If you don’t know if you have ever had the measles or have been vaccinated, it does not hurt to be vaccinated again,” said Miller. “As they say, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”