- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio residents should call first before heading to pharmacies to get vaccinated amid ongoing outbreaks of measles and mumps, state officials said Tuesday.

Pharmacists can now administer the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to adults under an executive order from the governor. But individual pharmacies can decide whether to carry the immunization and may not yet have it following Monday’s order.

Ohio is part of the nation’s largest outbreak of measles cases since 1994, said Mary DiOrio, the state epidemiologist. There were at least 287 confirmed cases as of Monday, up from about 160 cases two weeks ago.

“It’s a virus that will find those who are unvaccinated if it gets into certain communities,” DiOrio told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.

Gov. John Kasich’s order is in effect for 90 days, but the state pharmacy board wants to make it permanent.

Seven counties have reported measles cases. Health officials have said it began with unvaccinated Amish travelers who visited the Philippines, which has had a measles epidemic. In Ohio, the spread has largely affected unvaccinated individuals in the north-central part of the state.

Health officials are going door-to-door in the Amish community in Knox County, where at least 187 measles cases have been reported.

The county has worked with Amish church leaders to promote vaccinations and held immunizations at Amish businesses, said Julie Miller, the Knox County health commissioner.

“There’s a misconception that the Amish are hard to reach,” Miller said in a telephone interview.

Many are getting vaccinated, though she said she did not know how many Amish reside in the area. “It’s brought up a great question for all of the counties,” Miller said.

Miller welcomed the rule change for pharmacists, though she said it was unclear what impact it could have on the population her county is trying to immunize.

“I don’t see Amish rushing to the pharmacies to do that,” Miller said.

Ohio also is grappling with a mumps outbreak, with 418 probable and confirmed cases reported as of Monday. Those linked to Ohio State University topped 230 cases.

Pharmacy board president Kevin Mitchell said the panel has sent emails to licensed pharmacists and are working with their trade association to spread the word about the MMR immunization change. Previously, pharmacists have been able to provide immunizations to adults for such illnesses as flu, tetanus and meningitis.

The MMR vaccine doesn’t differ greatly from the other immunizations pharmacists are trained to give, Mitchell said.

The state health department said it has distributed 16,600 doses of MMR vaccine to local health agencies in affected areas, which have administered at least 11,000.

The measles virus is highly contagious, spreading easily through the air and in closed rooms. Infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.

It causes a fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.

Ohio has had eight hospitalizations in a measles outbreak that began in March, with most of the sick recovering on their own.



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