Over the past 18 months, measles has reminded the Western world why it was once a feared disease. In the United Kingdom, pockets of unvaccinated people allowed the virus to flourish, and now a megachurch in Texas has reportedly had the same effect in the U.S.
The measles outbreak in Texas has centered on Eagle Mountain International Church, with 15 of the 25 confirmed cases involving attendees. Health authorities believe someone attended church after becoming infected with measles while overseas. The virus spread to 9 children and 6 adults who attend the church. Most of the cases involved people without full vaccination records against measles. The rest had no record of being vaccinated.
Low rates of immunization at the church appear to have allowed the virus to spread. "This is a classic example of how measles is being reintroduced," Vanderbilt University School of Medicine infectious disease expert William Schaffner told USA Today. Health officials have long warned that communities with low immunization rates are at risk. Orthodox Jewish communities in New York have experienced 58 cases this year, with the high rate of religiously justified exemptions from vaccination a possible factor.
The Eagle Mountain church is part of televangelist Kenneth Copeland's operations. Copeland and his daughter Terri Pearsons, a pastor at Eagle Mountain, are advocates of faith healing and proponents of the discredited link between vaccines and autism. Earlier this month, Pearsons said: "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."
Studies have repeatedly found no evidence to support these theories. In April, a paper failed to find a correlation between antibody count and incidence of autism, adding to evidence against the "too many vaccines" theory. In the wake of the measles cases, Eagle Mountain appears to have accepted that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks and has set up free immunization clinics.