Eagle Mountain International Church, located just south of Newark in Tarrant County, is the focus of a measles outbreak reported by the Tarrant County Health Department last week.
Public health officials said a church member had recently traveled to a country where measles is common. One person contracted measles after returning from that trip, and a child relative of that person also became infected.
Officials announced a new case on Monday afternoon, bringing the total to 10 – all of them apparently connected to each other and to the 1,500-member church in far northwest Tarrant County. They said nearly all of those – the youngest is a 1-year-old and the oldest is 44 – who have contracted measles were not immunized.
The church is connected with Kenneth Copeland Ministries, which has its headquarters nearby at an old airfield on the northeast end of the lake.
Nancy Alto of the ministry’s staff released a statement Tuesday stating the exposure came through a visitor who attended services after going overseas.
“The congregation, staff at Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and the daycare center on property were exposed through that contact,” she said.
She went on to say KCM was “in close contact” with the Tarrant County Health Department and following their instructions on how to deal with the outbreak.
Although Copeland, in his television ministry, once condemned vaccinations, linking them to childhood autism, that is not the church’s position.
“The ministry has held free immunization clinics for employees and church members to assist them in obtaining the best medical care for their families,” Alto said. “We continue to follow up on pending and confirmed cases to help in any way we can to keep the outbreak contained.”
Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for the Health Department, told Channel 4 news that the church’s leadership had been “very helpful” in dealing with the outbreak.
One of the church’s senior pastors warned members about exposure to the virus last week.
In a note to the congregation posted Thursday, pastor Terri Pearsons said the church was informed late Wednesday that one case of measles had been confirmed, with others pending.
According to KCM risk manager Robert Hayes, after a staff meeting at about 4 p.m., the church’s child-care facility and youth rooms were cleaned. Vaccinations were offered on Thursday morning through the health department, and the church’s sanctuary and other facilities were cleaned again. Another free vaccination clinic was held Sunday.
Pearsons explained her position on the web site.
“Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true,” she wrote. “Vaccinations help cut the mortality rate enormously. I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations.”
Pearsons affirmed what several health care professionals also asserted – that the link between autism and vaccinations has been thoroughly refuted.
“Measles is a dangerous and highly contagious infectious disease with various, sometimes serious, complications,” she wrote. “Measles can be prevented by simply being immunized with the MMR vaccine – which covers measles, mumps and rubella.
“The risks associated during an outbreak really outweigh the risks of the vaccination. I strongly feel that our children and even adults of all ages need to be immunized now to stop the spread of measles and prevent those potential complications.”
WISE COUNTY SPARED, SO FAR
There have been no reported cases of the measles in Wise County.
LeaAnne Gilley, FNP, a Family Nurse Practitioner with Clinical Care Associates in Boyd, said she has several patients who attend the church.
“We haven’t seen any cases of measles,” she said Tuesday. She cautioned against overreacting to the outbreak in Tarrant County.
“Growing up, we all got the measles,” she said. “It’s a common childhood disease – not something to go running from the stands screaming, ‘Oh my God, the measles!'”
She said the effort to vaccinate against measles began as a means of protecting against birth defects, which can be caused by rubella if it’s contracted by a woman during pregnancy.
“The measles did have a lot more serious effects in other parts of the world where there were much worse conditions – sanitation, nutrition and health care,” she said. “But here, it was something most kids got, and then they had a stronger immunity than those who get the vaccine.”
She said the virus starts out like a cold, followed by a reddish rash that spreads.
Ashley Carter, RN, director of health services for Decatur ISD, said as long as children are vaccinated, there’s nothing to worry about.
“The vaccination requirements do include measles,” she said. “We don’t let anyone in unless they’re up-to-date on their vaccinations. Our only concern would be kids who have an affidavit, a reason of conscience, which is a state form that gets filled out and notarized.”
She said she’s aware of eight students at the high school whose families have gone through the extensive process to get a state affadavit stating they are refusing vaccines on religious grounds or reasons of conscience.
“Those numbers are low at every campus,” she said. “And some have that just for certain vaccines, so they get some but not others.
“The affidavit is a big process, but if they do that, we have to let them in school.”
Sally Stokes, RN, director of infection control at Wise Regional Health System, said there is “probably no cause for worry” about the measles outbreak.
“If someone’s been vaccinated, even if they should get the measles, it would be a very mild case,” she said. “The autism side effect has proven to not be true.”
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said the autism argument “has been laid to rest scientifically,” although some parents still believe it and don’t vaccinate their children.
Complications from measles, on the other hand, may include pneumonia and encephalitis. Hundreds of children used to die from it every year before MMR vaccines were required in 1957, he said. As a result, he said it’s a problem when people don’t get vaccinated for it.
Measles was largely wiped out after a vaccine became widespread in the 1950s, making cases rare in the United States. Most people born in 1957 or after should have documentation of at least one dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine or other evidence of immunity to measles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of the vaccine – the first at 12 months and the second between ages 4 and 6.
FACTS ON MEASLES
Information provided by the Tarrant County Public Health Department
WHAT IS MEASLES?
- Measles is a highly contagious infectious viral disease that resides in the mucus in the nose and throat of infected people.
- The virus may stay suspended in the air or on a surface for up to two hours after an infectious person has been present.
- Symptoms generally begin about 7 to 18 days after a person is infected.
WHO IS MOST AT-RISK FOR MEASLES?
- Anyone born in or after 1957 who has not had measles is at risk.
- Anyone who has not been vaccinated is at risk.
HOW IS MEASLES SPREAD?
- You catch it when an infected person near you sneezes or coughs, and you breathe in the droplets or pick them up from an infected surface.
- If one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.
- Infected people are contagious from about four days before their rash starts to four days afterward.
- Measles is a human disease. It is not spread by any animals.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MEASLES?
- A typical case of measles begins with mild to moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat.
- 2-3 days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth.
- 35 days after symptoms start, a red or reddish brown rash appears.
- The rash usually begins on a person’s face at the hairline and spreads downward and outward to the hands and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.
HOW DO I KEEP FROM GETTING MEASLES?
- Besides avoiding people with measles, the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) or the Measles/Mumps/Rubella/Varicella (MMRV) vaccines are the best protection against measles.
- These vaccines are strongly endorsed by medical and public health experts as safe and effective and are recommended for children before entering school.
- Anyone born during or after 1957 who has not had measles or been vaccinated is at risk and should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine.
- Two doses are recommended, especially for adults who are at higher risk, such as college students, international travelers and healthcare personnel.
HOW SERIOUS IS THE DISEASE?
- Measles can infect anyone who is not protected and at risk.
- It is unpleasant and the complications are dangerous.
- Six to 20 percent of the people who get the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea or even pneumonia.
- One out of 1,000 with measles develop inflammation of the brain, and about one out of 1,000 will die.
- Widespread use of the measles vaccine has led a greater than 99% reduction in measles. In the decade before the measles vaccination program began, an estimated 3 4 million people in the United States were infected each year, 400-500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized and another 1,000 developed chronic disability from measles encephalitis.
- However, measles is still very common – even epidemic – in other parts of the world.
- Visitors to our country and unvaccinated U.S. travelers returning from other countries can unknowingly bring measles into the United States.
- Since the virus is highly contagious, imported cases can quickly spread, causing outbreaks or epidemics among unvaccinated people and under-vaccinated communities.
- To protect your children, yourself and your community, it is important to be vaccinated against measles.
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
For more information, call 817-321-4700 or visit the web site health.tarrantcounty.com