Measles – A Texas Church is at the Center of a Measles Out break

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By ANN ZIMMERMAN And BETSY MCKAY CONNECT
Reposted from an article in the WSJ 8/28

A Texas church connected to a high-profile television evangelist is the site of the latest outbreak of measles, a virus that is making a troubling comeback in some corners of the U.S.

Over the past two weeks, 21 children and adults affiliated with Eagle Mountain International Church, 30 miles north of Fort Worth, have contracted the highly contagious disease, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Twenty-one children and adults affiliated with Eagle Mountain International Church, north of Fort Worth, have contracted measles.

Measles is a respiratory disease causing fever, cough and rash. Most people who catch it recover fully. But it can lead to deafness and pneumonia, and, in about one in 1,000 cases, death.

The outbreak was sparked by a visitor to the church who had recently traveled to Asia, where the disease is more prevalent because of low vaccination rates, according to Tarrant County Health Department spokesman Al Roy. The first of the cases were documented the second week in August and linked to the church several days later.

None of the 11 children who got sick had been vaccinated, according to the health department. Like all states, Texas requires children attending school to be vaccinated for measles. Most of the children were home-schooled or in the church’s day care, the health department said.

The church’s senior pastor, Terri Pearsons, previously had expressed concern to her congregants over what she believed to be a link between autism and the measles vaccination, according to the pastor’s statement on the church website.

Ms. Pearson’s father is longtime televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who preaches the prosperity gospel and whose ministry is based on the same 25-acre grounds as the church. Mr. Copeland’s 30-year-old ministry says on its website that its weekly television broadcast has millions of viewers worldwide and its magazine has 569,451 subscribers in 135 countries.

Neither Ms. Pearsons nor Mr. Copeland returned calls for comment.

The majority of adults who came down with measles had at least one shot, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses—the first at age 12 months to 15 months and the second between the ages of 4 and 6 years.

The cases in Texas represent the third major measles outbreak reported in the U.S. this year, following those in New York City and North Carolina. The 159 cases reported across the nation this year are nearly triple the number logged in 2012. The year’s case load is on course to reach 2011’s—the busiest year since 1996, with 220 cases.

Measles is one of the most preventable of all diseases, with an effective vaccine that has been used in the U.S. since the 1960s. It is now commonly given with mumps and rubella vaccines in a combined “MMR” vaccine.

The U.S. eliminated measles in 2000, meaning homegrown cases of the disease are no longer circulating within the country’s borders, and vaccination rates across the country are generally high.

But outbreaks persist, as travelers bring the virus into the country from regions of the world where the disease continues to circulate. Those people can then infect the unvaccinated.

“It’s concerning that we continually get tested by these importations,” said Gregory Wallace, a measles expert at the CDC.

Health authorities say vaccination rates of around 95% are needed to prevent outbreaks—that is roughly the rate reported in a CDC survey of U.S. kindergartners in the 2011-12 school year. Texas’ rate in the same survey was 99%.

A paper by a British doctor in the late 1990s suggested the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella might be linked to autism, which led some parents to forgo immunizing their children. That research has since been debunked.

At the urging of the county epidemiologist, the church held two vaccination clinics and encouraged its congregants to get vaccinated.

In a message on the church’s website, Ms. Pearsons said she wasn’t against vaccinations. “I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations,” she wrote. “The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have a family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time.”

Write to Ann Zimmerman at ann.zimmerman@wsj.com and Betsy McKay at betsy.mckay@wsj.com

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