FORT WORTH — Nine of the 14 cases of measles reported in Texas this year are in Tarrant County, and four of the others are elsewhere in North Texas, public health officials report.Seven of the Tarrant County cases were confirmed Friday, said Vanassa Joseph, a spokeswoman for Tarrant County Public Health.Measles, a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus, has all but been eradicated in the United States because of an aggressive vaccination program. But the disease is common, even epidemic, in some parts of the world. Measles can spread quickly, causing outbreaks or epidemics among those without immunity, health officials say.The nine Tarrant County cases have been traced to a parent who traveled to a foreign country and brought back the infection, Joseph said. A child of that parent came down with measles. The seven cases confirmed Friday were people who came in contact with the parent or child, she said.“The number of people involved is changing very rapidly and is not static,” said Dr. Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health. “Whatever I say now will change very quickly.“We do expect the number of cases to increase.”All nine people live in northern Tarrant County and have been asked to “self-isolate,” Joseph said. No measles cases were reported in the state or Tarrant County last year. In 2011, the state had six cases and the county had two. Before that, measles had not been reported in Tarrant County for 17 years.Two cases each have been reported this year in Dallas and Denton counties, with one case in Harris County, said Christine Mann, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.All the state cases are “import-associated,” meaning that someone contracted the disease abroad, Mann said.Danger of measlesAlthough often recognized by the rash that spreads over the body, measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. It lives in the mucus of the nose and throat and is spread by coughing and sneezing.“Measles is the most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illness,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.Six to 20 percent of people who contract the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea or pneumonia. One in 1,000 people with measles develops brain inflammation, or encephalitis. Of every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die, the CDC says.Pneumonia is the complication that most often causes death in young children. Ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss.Pregnant women who get measles may have a miscarriage, give birth prematurely or have a low-birth-weight baby.Measles is a leading cause of blindness among African children. The disease kills almost 1 million children in the world annually, the CDC reports.American travelers can be unprepared for the microbes they will encounter in other countries, said Dr. Vitaly Golub, an infectious-disease specialist with the JPS Health Network. “Someone going out of the country is bringing it here and then coming in contact with people who have weakened or no immunity,” Golub said. “The vaccination is good, but it’s not 100 percent and it does weaken over time.”The hunt is onThe parent and child in northern Tarrant County who were initially infected have recovered but spread the virus for about nine days, according to health officials.Investigators are tracking down people who have been in close contact with the pair or with the other seven people infected.Three healthcare providers have reported individuals who might have the disease, Jones said.“We are notifying those people and offering vaccine to those who do not have documentation of previous vaccinations or who have not been vaccinated,” he said.Investigators have not determined which strain of measles is circulating, Jones said. They are awaiting test results from a state lab in Austin. “That could take days to weeks,” Jones said.Doctors used to think one vaccination shot was enough to stave off a measles infection, Jones said. Two shots are now recommended because it was discovered that the initial vaccination worked in only 90 percent of those treated, Jones said. About 10 percent of those who were vaccinated and received one shot may still be susceptible to the disease, Jones said.“Anyone who develops symptoms of measles should check with their healthcare provider,” Jones said.
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3