A televangelist Megachurch in Texas has been linked to an outbreak of measles. According to local health authorities, at least 21 cases have been reported, all of which are affiliated with Eagle Mountain International Church.
The cases, spanning over the past two weeks, include a four-month-old infant. Sixteen of the cases are in Tarrant County, Texas. Eleven of the 16 cases had not received a vaccination. Five other cases were reported in nearby Denton County. The majority of the adults had received the first vaccination but not the recommended second dose.
Russell Jones, a Texas state epidemiologist, noted that typically the vaccination rate for measles is 98 percent, though with "pockets" of people unimmunized. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that even more individuals in the region may be susceptible and fear the number of reported cases will increase.
According to the Tarrant County Health Department, the initial case was a visitor to the church. (S)he had recently returned from traveling to Indonesia, where the disease is more prevalent.
The United States eliminated measles in 2000, and on average only approximately 60 people are diagnosed with the disease per year. However, outbreaks still occur due to low vaccination rates. The CDC reported 222 cases in 2011, 40 percent of which had contracted the disease outside the United States.
The CDC advises two doses of the MMR vaccine – the first at 12 to 15 months of age and the second can be given as soon as four weeks later but is usually given just around the age of 4-5 years. Texas law requires students to be vaccinated before starting school.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease, 90 percent of those exposed to measles without vaccination will become infected. Symptoms include a runny nose, cough, and a rash covering the body.
Most people who contract measles recover fully, however, some develop more serious complications such as hearing loss, pneumonia and encephalitis. Encephalitis occurs in one to two in every 1000 of those infected, patients developing encephalitis are associated with a poor prognosis with mortality rates up to 30 percent. According to the CDC nearly 200,000 people worldwide die every year due to measles.
Health authorities informed the church of the first case on August 14, 2013. Two days later, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued a health alert to the public.
Allegedly, the church has previously voiced concerns regarding the link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. This claim, which has gained considerable media attention, has been rebutted in recent years.
The Eagle Mountain homepage now declares "We are not 'anti-vaccination'" and has downloadable information on vaccines available on their website. Kenneth Copeland Ministries, the parent organization, has released a similar statement, refuting the allegations that they preach against vaccination programs. Both are urging their followers, in light of this event, to protect their children