A Texas megachurch is taking steps to make sure its congregation is safe after health officials linked it to a measles outbreak that has resulted in the illness of more than a dozen people.
A statement posted to the Eagle Mountain International Church website says the virus was brought into the congregation by a visitor who contracted it overseas. A daycare center on campus and the staff of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, which the church is affiliated with, were also exposed.
"The ministry has held free immunization clinics for employees and church members to assist them in obtaining the best medical care for their families," the church, led by senior pastors George and Terri Pearsons, said in its statement. "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."
The church has worked closely with Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH) officials to stop the virus from spreading any further. Terri Pearsons, daughter of televangelist Kenneth Copeland, and Kenneth Copeland Ministries have also worked to clarify their views on vaccination in recent days.
"Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true," Terri Pearsons said in a written message last week. "Vaccinations help cut the mortality rate enormously. I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations. The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time."
There is no known connection between autism and vaccinations in older children, added Pearsons. She also suggested the new measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine should be less concerning to parents because it contains no thimerosal, an organic compound that contains mercury.
"The risks associated during an outbreak really outweigh the risks of the vaccination," she said. "Therefore 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. Also, the disease is only shut down when all are immunized."
The outbreak has led to 16 confirmed cases of the measles in Tarrant County as of Monday afternoon, according to TCPH. Seven of the people infected in Tarrant County were adults and nine were children. Five other cases have also been confirmed in nearby Denton County.
Dr. Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for TCPH, told The Christian Post that officials are still investigating other possible cases.
Today is the first day of classes for many school districts in North Texas. Jones says he isn't too worried about the disease spreading in schools because students, with the exception of those who are exempt for religious or medical reasons, are required to receive vaccinations.
The children he is concerned for, he says, are those who are homeschooled. Citing health officials, USA Today reports that all of the school-age children who have been diagnosed with measles during this outbreak are homeschooled.
"That population has me worried," said Jones. "If it got there, we don't have the immunization rates we have in the other places where it's compulsory, and something could get going there and it would be a long time before it burned out."
The measles virus can linger on a surface or in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has left the room. Symptoms of the disease include a rash, fever, watery eyes, runny nose and a cough. Jones says those who have symptoms should warn their doctor before going in for an appointment, and they should otherwise stay at home. Those who haven't contracted the disease, he says, should just get their shots.
"Just get your immunization and don't worry about it," he said.
Approximately 60 people in the U.S. are reported to have measles each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though in 2011 there were 222 people who contracted the virus. Measles outbreaks in the U.S. are often started when travelers enter the country from a region of the world where the disease is more common.