A modern-day measles outbreak in Tarrant County, Texas has sickened 21 people and could potentially make more ill — as many residents of the area are members of a megachurch that holds some anti-vaccination views.
Members of the Eagle Mountain International Church in Tarrant County appear to have been exposed to measles by a member returning from a trip to Indonesia, who then spread it to the largely vaccine-free church community, reports NBC.
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Twenty-one have been made ill, including a four-month-old infant, with victims in both Tarrant and nearby Denton countries. At least eight of the ill are members of the church, according to ABC News.
Eleven out of 16 of the recent measles victims weren't vaccinated, reports US News, while none of the Denton county sufferers had received a vaccine.
Eagle Mountain International Church spokesman Robert Hayes told ABC "we have never taken an anti-vaccine position. It has never been preached by this pulpit or put forth by our leadership," although megachurch leader Kenneth Copeland has espoused anti-vaccine views in the past.
The Eagle Mountain International Church is cooperating with Tarrant County Public Health Department and is encouraging embers to get vaccinated, and is currently offering immunization clinics to church members.
"We continue to follow up on pending and confirmed cases to help in any way we can to keep the outbreak contained," wrote Eagle Mountain representatives on the church website."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."
Measles, one of the deadliest and most contagious childhood diseases, used to be common in the US but has been largely eradicated with the advent of modern immunization.
However, a recent backlash against vaccinations in the US — which some believe are linked to raising rates of autism — has led to an increased number of cases, with a record high of 220 in 2011.