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.