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Even as Ohio health officials urge parents to have their children immunized against measles and mumps, the Buckeye state appears to be front and center of a measles epidemic affecting 18 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With 138 cases of measles in Ohio confirmed as of Thursday, state officials say the origin of this outbreak — many of those infected are in Knox County near the center of the state — came from members of the Amish community who traveled to the Philippines, which has had a measles epidemic. In late May, an Ohio Department of Health report said the measles outbreak more than doubled in a 10-day period.
“This is a wake-up call for travelers and parents to make sure vaccinations are up to date,” Ann Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told the Washington Post. “The measles vaccine is very safe and effective and measles can be very serious. It’s very infectious.”
Measles complications are so serious that seven Ohioans have been hospitalized, making a total of 43 people hospitalized nationwide. Of the more than 32,000 people in the Philippines infected with measles, 41 have died. As of Thursday, the Ohio health department had not been notified of any deaths in the state.
“Not only does a vaccination help ourselves, but it also helps those who cannot be vaccinated,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, preventive medicine physician and state epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health. She explained that if some people with serious medical conditions were immunized, their lives could be further jeopardized. The outbreaks of measles and mumps show that preventable diseases are "still with us. We must be vaccinated to protect ourselves and children."
Toledo-Lucas County Health Department trumpets the same bulletin, while stressing that the outbreaks in northeast and central Ohio have not affected the greater Toledo area.
"Our message every day is to get immunized," said Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County Health Commissioner. "Thank goodness we don't have any evidence of increases in Lucas County. There's been no bump in reported diseases."
"Thirty percent of all measles infections will have one or more complications," Dr. DiOrio said. "Previously healthy children might need to be hospitalized. We cannot predict which children might get seriously ill."
Vaccines are not completely effective, especially in the case of mumps which is experiencing its own smaller outbreak. Most of those who have come down with the mumps have been vaccinated, Dr. DiOrio added, and many of them are students, employees, and others linked to Ohio State University.
She said two doses of the mumps vaccine make for an 88 percent effectiveness rate. She insists that immunizations is best protection, as the mumps can also result in serious complications.
"In the mumps outbreak, most of the individuals have been vaccinated. ... The vaccine is included in the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and the measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccines," Dr. DiOrio said. "Thus, some individuals can be fully vaccinated against mumps and still become infected with the mumps virus."
Parents might be persuaded to make sure their youngsters are immunized after visiting a link on the Toledo Lucas County Health Department website. There, visitors can read and hear reports about children who were not immunized, and some of the resulting consequences.
As for the still simmering debate about a connection between autism and vaccines, Dr. Grossman said that has been "completely debunked," and anybody who buys into lingering notions of a relationship between immunizations and autism, "believes the Earth is flat."
The issue has been studied multiple times, and no connection has been identified, Dr. DiOrio said. And though vaccines are important for other age groups too — flu and pneumonia vaccines are among them – Dr. Grossman said parents are in control of their children being immunized.
"It's critical that they exert that responsibility," he said, adding, "I can't think of any reason why a parent won't get it."
For more information on vaccinations, go to vaccineinformation.org.
Contact Rose Russell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.