FORT WORTH Tarrant County health officials have zeroed in on a megachurch near Eagle Mountain Lake as where a measles outbreak began to spread.
A congregant contracted the viral infection during a visit to a foreign country and attended a service before he knew his diagnosis, according to a written statement from Eagle Mountain International Church spokeswoman Nancy Alto. The individual was not a member of the church and was visiting the facility as part of a multi-nation mission trip.
The Tarrant County Public Health Department on Thursday announced its 11th diagnosis at about 3:30 p.m., marking the 16th statewide diagnosis. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services last week issued an alert against the measles, a viral infection that has been nearly eradicated by vaccinations.
The youngest victim is 4-months-old while the oldest is 44-years-old, said Tarrant County epidemiologist Russell Jones. More than half are younger than 20. Jones said he believes the county has reached all children who are possibly exposed to it, although there is concern that residents outside the church could have been infected.
"There's a possibility that someone could've gone to the store and were infectious and didn't know it because they weren't feeling bad at the time," said Jones. "And, it's a very low probability, but maybe someone there was not properly immunized or not immune to the disease could have caught it from there and so they could come down with it and this could be propagated somewhere else."
The outbreak is prompting state and county health authorities to remind residents of the importance of immunizations, especially as school begins across the state and in North Texas.The majority of the patients were not vaccinated.
There were eight who were not vaccinated at all and the others claimed they were but they didn t have the proper documentation for it, said Tarrant County Public Health Department spokesman Al Roy.
In her prepared statement, Alto said some patients are children in the nursery who are too young to be immunized against measles.
Eagle Mountain International Church had a visitor attend a service that had been overseas and exposed to measles. Therefore the congregation, staff at Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and the daycare center on property were exposed through that contact, she wrote in an email.
The Tarrant County Commissioners Court was briefed on the measles outbreak during its weekly meeting Tuesday.
Of the 16 Texas cases, 15 are in Tarrant, Dallas and Denton counties, although the lion's share of those is in Tarrant. The latter two have logged two cases each. The other diagnosis was in Harris County.
Eight patients have already recovered.
Roy and the health department have stressed the importance of immunizations in the wake of these diagnoses. The state had just six cases in all of last year Tarrant County alone has almost doubled that with more than three months left until 2014.
Texas law requires school-aged children to be immunized before the first day. Roy advises residents to check with their physician to see whether they ve been immunized. The county is also providing immunizations for $20 and $25, details of which are in this link. For a step-by-step guide on how to tell if your child is vaccinated, the Center for Disease Control offers that here.
A message from Eagle Mountain International pastor Kenneth Copeland posted to the church website admits concerns about vaccines in young children because of an alleged but scientifically unproven autism connection.
The pastor is now urging immunizations to "stop the spread."
About 200 people showed up at an emergency shot clinic held at the church Sunday. However, hundreds of members could have potentially been infected. The church declined to say how many parishioners routinely attend services.
According to the Mayo Clinic, measles is an infection that typically affects children. Sympoms include cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, sore throat, fever and a red, blotchy skin rash. It can be fatal. The majority of victims who succumb to measles are under 5-years-old.
Below is the full statement from the Eagle Mountain International Church.
Eagle Mountain International Church had a visitor attend a service that had been overseas and exposed to measles.
Therefore the congregation, staff at Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and the daycare center on property were exposed through that contact.
KCM is in close contact with Tarrant County Health Department and we continue to follow their instructions on how to best deal with this outbreak. The ministry has held free immunizations clinics for employees and church members to assist them in obtaining the best medical care for their families. We continue to follow up on pending and confirmed cases to help in any way we can to keep the outbreak contained.
We ask that others join with us in prayer over this outbreak, and we believe that God is moving on behalf of each affected family.