Tarrant County is the latest area in North Texas to have a resident come down with measles, county health officials said Thursday. The unnamed county resident makes 14 confirmed cases in Texas and four in North Texas so far in 2019, more than in the last four years combined.
According to Tarrant County, the unnamed resident became infected during an international trip to an area going through an increase in measles cases.
"We are always concerned about the health of any resident who travels and returns to Tarrant County and shortly afterward develops signs or symptoms of a disease," said Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health. "We are grateful for the cooperation we're receiving from everyone involved in this case and feel confident the public is safe."
Tarrant County last recorded a measles case in 2015. The county emphasized Thursday that the disease is easily preventable with a vaccine.
"Adults who have received a measles vaccine series are considered immune. Those who have not been immunized against measles, or have never had measles, should contact their healthcare provider. Residents considering foreign travel should always check their health status beforehand," the county said.
Dr. Jason Terk, a pediatrician at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth and nationally known advocate for vaccines, said Tarrant County residents shouldn't ignore Thursday's case, despite the fact that the disease was contracted outside the United States.
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“This is an important case to take note of because we already know that Tarrant County is a hot spot for potential outbreaks of diseases like the measles,” Terk said. “Even though this is an imported case, we are more likely to have a wider outbreak of measles in our area because of the number of unvaccinated people and especially the people who are unvaccinated and live in unvaccinated clusters.”
In 2013, almost two dozen people connected to Kenneth Copeland's megachurch in Tarrant County came down with measles in one of the biggest Texas outbreaks in decades.
Statewide, Texas continues to struggle against anti-vaxxers. A Texas Lyceum poll in 2018 showed that 24 percent of Texas adults don't believe the positive effects of vaccines outweigh their risks. The state also takes a laissez-faire approach to public school vaccine requirements, allowing parents to decline to vaccinate their children by simply filling out a form.
"There are schools in Texas that have almost a 50 percent [vaccine] exemption rate," Rekha Lakshmanan, the director of advocacy and public policy for The Immunization Partnership, a Houston-based organization that promotes immunization education and pro-immunization public policy, told the Observer in 2018. "When you've got almost half the kids in a school having an exemption, that is ripe for an outbreak. That's what we're scared of. That's what we're worried about."