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Ohio Amish bearing brunt of measles epidemic

The measles outbreak in Ohio continues to grow. As of May 26, the Department of Health has received reports of 164 cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness in 2014. Knox County has reported 100 of those infections.

 Shakeithia Roberts holds her son, Jermaine Roberts , as pediatrician Amanda Porro M.D. administers a measles vaccination
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ohio has the highest number of Amish residents of any state, 65,475, according to 2013 data from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. The largest number of believers is centered in and around Holmes County, with Knox County just to the west. The area is estimated to have 250 church districts, the basic organizational structure of the local community. Leaders are elected by lot, and are not ordained or theologically educated in any traditional sense.

The Amish are divided into a large number of belief systems which are differentiated by strictness of the practice of the "simple life." Individual districts may practice a more rigid version of the faith than the norm, but all sects believe in the acceptance of God's will in life and health issues. That includes immunizations, which are not forbidden, but are often deferred.

NBC 4 reported on May 28 that the Knox County Health Department told them that all 100 measles cases in that county are in the Amish community. One community member told the station that religious services had been cancelled for over a month. The Health Department has gone door to door, discovering additional measles cases, and making vaccines available to those who want them.

Religious communities have been the frequent center of measles outbreaks in the last two years. In 2013, the largest outbreak occurred among the Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn. Another took place in members of a mega-church in Texas tied to the Kenneth Copeland televangelism ministry. A third broke out in North Carolina around the visitors and members of a Hindu religious shrine and study center.

The largest measles outbreak in recent Canadian history took place in early 2014 among the members of a Dutch Reformed church in British Columbia. That measles outbreak of over 400 cases traveled across the border to Washington where six additional measles cases were tied to the church. The sect is linked to several thousand measles case in the Netherlands over the last few years, as well.

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