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Since news broke in mid-April of a suspected case of the measles in a small Amish community in Ohio, locals and travelers have shared their concerns over the disease. The local Health Department has been working tirelessly to make sure the disease is contained and offer vaccinations to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Dr. D.J. McFadden, director of the Holmes County Health Department, expressed how important it is to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of this disease.
"What I tell people that ask, 'Is it safe to come to Holmes County?' Is if you are vaccinated against the measles, meaning you have received the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine, you are fine," said Dr. McFadden.
This question and answer session with Dr. McFadden will help answer some of your most frequently asked questions and concerns about the measles.
Q. How did the measles get to Holmes County?
A. The measles are a disease that exists around the world. It was eliminated from the United States in 2000 - meaning that any cases of measles in the U.S. after the year 2000 were imported cases.
Recently, a typhoon in the Philippines caused a large outbreak of measles in the country. Unvaccinated, relief workers from all over the world traveled to the area to provide assistance and brought the disease back to their home countries.
Holmes Counties particular outbreak was started by a group of relief workers in Knox County who traveled to the Philippines unvaccinated and brought it back to the area. The first case was detected on March 22 and health officials confirmed that it was the measles on April 20.
Q. What are the signs and symptoms of the measles?
A. The measles are highly contagious and spread rapidly. The hallmarks of the measles include:
Conjunctivitis or red sore eyes
An individual must have both a fever and a rash along with one or two of the other symptoms in order to have the measles. The rash starts at the hairline, spreads over the face and down the chest and back, before spreading across the limbs.
It takes 7-21 days from exposure to notice the first symptom which is typically a fever. The individual is typically sick 3-4 days before the rash sets in, then develops a high, spiking fever and recovers over the next few days. Individuals should be quarantined for 21 days to avoid exposing others.
Q. Who should be concerned about the measles?
A. Individuals born before 1957 are most likely immune due to having the measles. Before the vaccine was developed, there were over 500,000 cases of measles every year. If you are unsure if you have had the measles, you should be vaccinated.
Individuals born between 1958 and 1982 have most likely received one dose of the measles vaccine because it was a requirement at the time.
Individuals born after 1983 or those who have attended public schools have most likely had two doses of the measles vaccine.
Health care workers and those that plan to travel overseas should have two doses of the vaccine and if you are planning on traveling to Holmes County, you should consider having two doses of the vaccine.
If you are unsure if you have had the appropriate amount of vaccinations, you should check with your physician.
Q. Why are the measles a concern?
A. "If this was just a rash or the flu we would not be concerned, although the flu is very contagious," explained Dr. McFadden.
"As a society we decided there were certain diseases that were too important to leave to their own devices and let people just develop immunities to. This is a disease that can cause serious harm and we need to vaccinate against it."
One out of every 1,000 cases will result in encephalitis - an infection or inflammation of the brain that can result in death or a lifelong neurological impairment such as: blindness, cognitive disorders, a decline in mental health or difficulty using a limb.
Two-to-three out of every 1,000 cases will result in death
One-third of cases will result in severe diarrhea (resulting in dehydration), pancreatitis or pneumonia - all serious cases that result in hospitalization.
"We invested a large amount of resources to develop these vaccines to eliminate the measles," said Dr. McFadden. Two doses of the measles vaccine is 97 percent effective.
Q. How has the measles outbreak affected tourism
in the area?
A. "I asked the chamber to see if tourism has been affected and I don't know that they have seen a huge impact," said Dr. McFadden.
"We have been getting calls a couple times a week from individuals asking questions and expressing their concerns, but the outbreak has not affected tourism overall," said Bonnie Coblentz, marketing coordinator for the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce.
A handful of large scale events such as Horse Progress Days and various sales in the area have been well attended. Only a few hotels have reported cancellations in which the guests had legitimate concerns for their health, explained Dr. McFadden.
"People who have compromised immune systems that are vaccinated but they know they are still at a high risk of exposure. This is people being logical and not just being scared of the measles outbreak in general," said Dr. McFadden.
"We have felt very confident in the proactive stance of our Health Department through their continued informational updates and vaccination clinics," said Danara Wallace, public information specialist for the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce. "We encourage visitors to be informed both of the status of the measles in Holmes County as well as of their own health and choices regarding vaccinations and boosters."
Q. What is the status of the measles outbreak?
A. Since the first case was reported, the Health Department feels confident that the outbreak is coming to a close. "We are coming to the tail-end of the outbreak, which is positive. We are still seeing cases but they are not an explosive number of cases," said Dr. McFadden.
The important thing is to get vaccinated (if you are not already) and become educated about the measles. "If you are fully vaccinated, come, enjoy, it's a great place to be," said Dr. McFadden.
"There are a lot of great events, new businesses and tourist attractions in the area. If you are concerned, contact the health department and get the facts," said Coblentz.
The Holmes County Health Department can be reached at 330-674-5035 or more information can be found online at www.holmeshealth.org. For more information on the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce call 330-674-3975 or visit www.holmescountychamber.com.