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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Polio cases put focus on Amish

Minnesota has outbreak; NNY agencies prepared

By Norah Machia
Watertown Daily Times

North country public health agencies are prepared to offer polio vaccine to the Amish in their communities if requested by state or federal health officials in wake of a reported polio outbreak among four Amish children in Minnesota.

"As a rule, the Amish generally do not get vaccines for their children," said Patricia N. Ward, nursing supervisor for St. Lawrence County Public Health. "They are exempt from vaccine requirements because of their religious beliefs. But we would certainly go out to their homes and offer it to them if needed."

The Washington Post reported Friday that the first outbreak of polio in the United States in 26 years occurred this fall in an Amish community in central Minnesota.

State and federal health officials have determined that four Amish children have been infected with the virus, although none of them has developed paralysis. The last outbreak of polio in this country occurred in several states in 1979 among members of Amish communities.

The Associated Press said some parents in the Minnesota community were allowing their children to be immunized but others were not. Because of that, the report said, the virus could spread to other Amish communities.

There is a large Amish population in St. Lawrence County in the DePeyster, DeKalb and Heuvelton areas, Mrs. Ward said. Recently, several Amish families also have moved into the Hammond and Morristown areas.

"Several years ago, when there was a measles outbreak among some Amish in the county, they realized it was a communicable disease and they kept their children at home," said Mrs. Ward. "They didn't take them to church when they were sick."

The local public health agencies have not yet received any official notification from the Centers for Disease Control or the state Health Department about any planned reponse to the Minnesota polio outbreak.

In Jefferson County, there has been "an increasing Amish population in the county over the last three to four years, but the numbers are still low," said Jean A. Bilow, director of Public Health.

Staff at Public Health who travel throughout the county estimate there may be about 10 Amish families living in Jefferson County, she said.

"These families tend not to receive vaccinations," Miss Bilow said. "But we're certainly going to try and obtain any additional information from the state Health Department."

Jefferson County Public Health would work closely with state officials to help track Amish families in the county and offer them the vaccine, she said.

Children are normally vaccinated for polio four times: at 2 months, at 4 months and between 6 and 18 months, with a booster between 4 and 6 years.

Polio causes paralysis in approximately one in every 200 people afflicted with the disease, according to The Washington Post.

"It's unfortunate this happened because there is a vaccine available to prevent the disease," Miss Bilow said.

Posted by Becca

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