Tarrant County health officials on Wednesday confirmed four new cases of measles, bringing the total to 15. Denton County officials confirmed five new cases.Officials have said the 15 Tarrant County cases, plus the five in Denton County, can be traced to the 1,500-member Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, approximately 25 miles northwest of Fort Worth. A visitor who had recently returned from an international mission attended a service at the church on July 21 where members were exposed.“We’re at 20 cases, all in that chain,” said Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for the Tarrant County Public Health Department. “We added four cases today and they are all linked together. Of those 15 cases, two or three don’t go to that church, but they are linked to each other as friends or family members.”In 2011, the state had six reported cases of measles. Tarrant County had two. Before that, measles had not been reported in Tarrant County for 17 years.The four new cases in Tarrant County range in age from 4 months to 44 years, officials said.“All of the school-age children involved are home-schooled,” according to a statement from Tarrant County health officials.Twelve of the Tarrant County patients “are no longer infectious,” officials said. Those with cases that are still infectious have been asked to stay at home.Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus, but it’s commonly recognized by a rash that spreads over the body, officials said. The virus causes fever, runny nose and a cough.The most effective way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated, Denton County health officials said. They encouraged residents to check their vaccination records with their health care provider.“For individuals who are not vaccinated, measles cases in the community should be viewed as a warning to strongly consider vaccination,” said Bing Burton, director of Denton County’s health department. “Those who are not currently immunized should re-evaluate the benefits and risks of vaccination, based on the presence of an outbreak.”Jones indicated that the situation could be worse.“The good news is that we are fairly well vaccinated in Tarrant County,” he said. “As of 2011-2012 public school year, we were at 98.3 percent immunized for measles in kindergarten. In the 7th grade, it was 99.1 percent in Tarrant County.“That’s good but there are some folks who object to the vaccine and if they are exposed to it they run a real risk of becoming ill.”The latest Denton County cases involve patients ages 9 to 17, “and are located in the Justin area,” according to a news release from the Denton County Health Department.“All cases are linked to one previously identified case in Tarrant County who had traveled outside the United States to a country where measles is common,” the release stated.Denton County had two unrelated confirmed measles cases in April and May, said Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman for the health department. “Prior to 2013, there have not been any measles cases in Denton County for several years,” she said. Staff writer Steve Campbell contributed to this report, which includes material from Star-Telegram archives.
Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST