An outbreak of measles is spreading rapidly through a largely unvaccinated megachurch community in Texas, with 21 people sickened so far.
Health experts believe a member of the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Tex., became infected with measles on a recent trip to Indonesia and brought the highly contagious virus back to the compound. As of Monday, there have been 16 reported cases in Tarrant County, Texas, and five additional infections in nearby Denton County, according to NBC News.
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"We continue to follow up on pending and confirmed cases to help in any way we can to keep the outbreak contained," the church said in a statement. "We ask that others join us in prayers over this outbreak."
The Texas measles outbreak brings the total number of reported cases in the U.S. to 159 for the year. The virus, which is spread by coughing or sneezing, once killed as many as 500 people and hospitalized 48,000 per year until a vaccine was developed in 1963. It's so contagious, health officials warned, that 90 percent of people not vaccinated or immune will contract the virus if exposed.
That is the problem at the Texas megachurch, where many members don’t believe in vaccinations.
"There's likely a lot more susceptible people," Dr. Jane Seward, the deputy director for the viral diseases division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC.
Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and sore throat, plus a characteristic red rash that starts on the face or hairline and spreads to the rest of the body, according to the CDC. It can take eight days to two weeks after exposure before an infected person develops symptoms.
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