The year of 2014 has seen a dramatic increase in measles outbreaks. Several Amish missionaries to the Philippines brought back the virus, which has spread throughout communities in Ohio. The virus halted wedding season and church in the spring to avoid further spreading. The Amish are not against vaccinations in principle, yet it is culturally uncommon. Furthermore, rumored health disadvantages of vaccinations over the past decade have decreased measles vaccinations among children countrywide, Amish or not, creating a serious health risk.
Measles is caused by the Morbillivirus, an RNA virus in the paramyoxyviridae family. It is a respiratory disease that causes cough runny nose and a trademark rash. About 2 in 1,000 patients with measles pass away, usually from complications such as pneumonia. This disease is highly contagious and new outbreaks concern medical staff around the country.
Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University describes the severity of the measles outbreak and suggests that everyone should be vaccination, especially when going abroad to other countries to avoid bring measles back to the United States. Measles hospitalizes 15% of those infected and is a huge health risk among the young and old. He says that bottom line there is no valid medical reason to avoid vaccination, only rewards for both the individual and society.
An estimated 33,000 Amish live in Ohio yet only about a quarter have vaccinations. Because many Amish children have never had any shots, the vaccines are especially hard to give to scared children. The 341 cases as of late June represent the largest measles outbreak in recent US history. Interestingly in 2005, journalist, Dan Olmstead, produced an “Age of Autism” series noting that the Amish have very few children with autism and for the few cases, the children happened to have been vaccinated, contributing to the misguided debated about vaccinations causing autism and contributing to decreased vaccination rates in the US. Despite it being culturally uncommon, many Amish are seeking medical help and receiving the vaccine to slow the spread of the virus.
--Will St. Amant