Measles outbreak linked to man who visited 1,500-member church in northwest Tarrant County

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Ten of 11 confirmed measles cases in Tarrant County have been linked to a 1,500-member church in Newark where a visitor who had just returned from an international mission attended a service on July 21.

Only the first confirmed Tarrant County case, which was diagnosed by an “astute physician,” has not been linked to the Eagle Mountain International Church, said Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for the Tarrant County Public Health Department.

The second confirmed case was the church visitor, Jones said.

The epidemiologist said the church, part of the Fort Worth-based Kenneth Copeland Ministries, has been helpful in informing its members and getting them involved in the effort to curb the outbreak.

Terri Pearsons, a senior minister of the church and the daughter of Kenneth Copeland, told the congregation last week that the measles outbreak amounts to “spiritual warfare.”

In a Wednesday sermon titled “Taking Our Stand of Faith Over Measles,” she briefed the congregation on the measles and encouraged members to be vaccinated.

“There’s a knee-jerk response to things like this, because that’s the health department and CDC’s ( Centers for Disease Control) job, to make everyone concerned and aware about it. But I want to remind people my age, remind anyone born before 1957, that we all had measles,” said Pearsons in the sermon posted on the church’s Internet site.

“So we don’t think these things flippantly. We take them seriously. But we keep them in perspective. What I’m telling you, it’s not going to wipe out everyone,” she said.

“We have to remember this is spiritual warfare, this is spiritual warfare. And the devil would love to take advantage of a hangnail. If he could take a hangnail and work on it until you had pneumonia and died, he would do his best to get it done,” Pearsons said.

She also told the congregation that there would be a “massive disinfecting,” of the entire church.

“There’s going to be a massive cleanup. Our team will be pleading the blood of Jesus and disinfecting because the blood cleanses us of all unrighteousness. And I have news for you, the measles are unrighteous,” she said.

Robert Hayes, risk manager for Kenneth Copeland Ministries and the church in northwest Tarrant County, said Tuesday that the man who spread the virus alerted authorities when he realized he had the measles.

“He was not from our church but knew several people at the church. He hugged several people, which was his normal practice — to give people big bear hugs,” Hayes said.

The man had been on a multinational mission trip that was not associated with Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Hayes said. Once he knew he had the measles, he came forward.

“That has been the saving grace in this entire thing,” Hayes said.

The church is following the directions of the health department and the doctor at its own clinic, he said.

“As soon as we knew what was going on, we took the appropriate action. Everything is as usual now. The only change is if you are going to be involved with child services, you will have to show that you have been immunized or show that you have had the measles,” Hayes said.

Of the confirmed cases in Tarrant County, eight have recovered, and cases that are still infectious have been asked to stay at home, Jones said.

But even though the cases have been clustered around the church, everyone should remain vigilant about recognizing measles symptoms, he said.

“I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, it’s only that group, it’s just that group.’ These people live in different places and do other things,” Jones said.

The people who have contracted the virus range in age from 4 months to 44 years, Jones said. Of the confirmed cases, eight people had not been immunized for measles.

Unusual outbreak

The outbreak has been highly unusual, the epidemiologist said, noting that 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.

Although commonly recognized by a rash that spreads over the body, measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus, according to the CDC.

The disease is also called rubeola. The measles virus normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. Besides a rash, the virus causes fever, runny nose and a cough.

About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia, according to the CDC. About one out of 1,000 gets encephalitis, and one or two out of 1,000 die.

Measles spreads through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. It is so contagious that any child who is exposed to it and is not immune will probably get the disease, the CDC says.

Immunization is the only way to prevent measles. A vaccination is required for school entry in Texas. The vaccine was introduced in the United States in 1963, according to the Medical Research Council.

The annual measles incidence peaked at 85,862 in 1958 in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Since the introduction of the vaccine, cases have decreased by 99.9% in Texas, according to the agency.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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