A new outbreak of measles tied to a Texas megachurch has been reported this week. It has affected at least 21 people, including a 4-month-old infant, and it’s expected to grow, state and federal health officials said. All of these cases are linked to the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, where a visitor who traveled to Indonesia became infected with measles and then returned to the United States, spreading it to the largely unvaccinated church community, said reporters.

This outbreak alone raises confirmed measles cases in the United States this year to 159 reported cases- a higher number than usual in which gaps in immunization appear to be the blame, the CDC reports. The largest outbreak since 1996 occurred in March of this year among Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, N.Y. It involved at least 58 people infected, after an unvaccinated teenager infected with measles returned from visiting Britain. “Measles is so contagious that 90% of people who are not immune to the disease or vaccinated against it will get sick. It is a respiratory disease that is spread by sneezing or coughing and the virus can live in the air or infected surfaces for up to 2 hours,” health officials warned.

Therefore, doctors recommend that children receive a Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The MMR vaccine is generally administered to children during their first year of age, with a second dose before school starts (at 4-5 years of age). The second dose is usually administered to produce immunity for those who fail to develop measles immunity after the first dose. All 3 diseases (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) are highly contagious. Before the measles vaccine was introduced, between 3-4 million people in the United States were infected each year, with about 50,000 being hospitalized and 500 dying from the disease, the CDC says. Thus, the combined MMR vaccine was introduced in 1963 to induce immunity less painfully than 3 separate administrations of the diseases.  A panel of experts concluded in 2000 that “separate administration of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines to children provides no benefit over administration of the combined MMR vaccine and would result in delayed or missed immunizations. By separating them, we are putting children (and pregnant women who may be exposed to them) at increased risk by extending the amount of time they go unvaccinated”, reporters noted.

However, there has been ongoing fear from parents when told by their pediatricians to administer the MMR vaccine to their child, due to an unproven link to autism. Currently, there is no scientifically proven link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This controversy started in the UK in 1998 after a study publication by Andrew Wakefield which reported 12 children who had bowel movement issues and believed to have developed autism after the child received the MMR vaccine. In 2010, Wakefield’s research was found to have been fraudulent by the British Medical Journal. Since then, several peer-reviewed studies have failed to show any scientific association between the MMR vaccine and autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, to name a few, have all concluded that there is no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. “Autism is a chronic developmental disorder, often first identified in toddlers from age 18 months to 30 months. MMR is administered just before the peak age of onset of autism. This timing leads some parents to mistakenly assume a causal relationship. There is no evidence that MMR causes autism.” Health officials have even criticized the media reporting of the MMR-autism controversy in triggering a decline in vaccination rates.

To conclude, this measles outbreak in Texas is just another reason for vaccinating our children and even adults who have not received proper vaccines, as these diseases still appear in the U.S. and people who decide not to vaccinate their children because of religious or personal beliefs put their children and others at risk for getting these diseases.

If you would like to learn more about the MMR vaccine, please visit the following references.