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Ohio's health leaders caution residents to beware of diseases once thought to be under control

Vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella
SamaraHeisz5, Shutterstock
Vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella

The Ohio Department of Health is warning Ohioans to take precautions against a variety of diseases, with some preventable diseases making a comeback. And in many cases, health leaders say Ohioans can get vaccines or make lifestyle changes to protect their health.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said he's concerned because some historic illnesses, like measles, pertussis, or syphilis, which were more obscure years ago, are causing many Ohioans to get ill.

In late 2022, there was an outbreak of measles in what Vanderhoff called "an under-vaccinated population." Out of the 85 cases in that outbreak, 36 were severe enough to require hospitalization.

Vanderhoff said measles continues to be a problem now, and can make people very ill. And he said most measles cases are in one particular group - the unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.

“The wonderful thing about our vaccines for measles is they are very, very highly effective and they are very effective at keeping you from even getting sick. So, for the most part, those of us who are fully vaccinated really are deeply protected against measles and measles illness," Vanderhoff said.

Vanderhoff said anyone who believes they have been exposed to measles is encouraged to reach out to their local health department.

Vanderhoff said pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, has also shown up. He said last year, Ohio saw 810 cases of pertussis, the highest number since 2014. And he said there have been 105 cases so far this year. Vanderhoff says there have also been cases of meningitis. He noted there are vaccines available for measles, pertussis, and meningitis. And he urges all Ohioans to make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccines.

Vanderhoff said rates of syphilis have been rising during in Ohio and throughout the nation "at an alarming rate" during the past few years. And he said while,there isn't a syphilis vaccine, there are effective treatments for it. But he's especially concerned when pregnant women contract the disease because it can result in miscarriages and stillbirth. And he said infants that contract syphilis through their mothers can have serious birth defects. Vanderhoff said healthcare providers should be checking pregnant women for syphilis so they can get treatment quickly.

COVID-19, RSV, and the flu

COVID-19 and RSV had been a problem earlier this winter. But Vanderhoff said it looks like there are fewer cases of those two illnesses now. He said just weeks ago, there were about 10,000 to 12,000 cases of COVID-19 each week. Now, he said that number is around 7,000 cases each week.

Vanderhoff said new variants of COVID-19 have not caused a significant increase in severe disease. That being said, Vanderhoff warned Ohioans continue to die from COVID-19 each day.

When it comes to flu, Vanderhoff said the number of cases has "not been unusually high" and is on track with the five-year average.

Once again, Vanderhoff urges Ohioans to get vaccinated, and advises anyone feeling sick to stay home.

Too many Ohioans are smoking

Vanderhoff said Ohio's smoking cessation programs are working for some. But Ohio is 11th in the number of smokers per capita. And he is especially concerned about kids who take up smoking.

Vanderhoff said kids using e-cigarettes or vapes is a problem because it still involves introducing "foreign substances" into "very sensitive pulmonary tissues." He noted those methods have not had the longitudinal studies that have been done on traditional tobacco-based cigarettes.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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