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13:46 PM

Tarrant County Makes List of Places Most At-Risk for Measles Outbreak in the U.S.

Out of 25 counties in the U.S. with the highest risk for a measles outbreak, Tarrant County ranks number 12 according to research published in the latest edition of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

To identify the hot spots, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University looked at each area’s volume of international travel from foreign countries with large measles outbreaks and the prevalence of nonmedical exemptions from childhood vaccinations.

The same researchers previously predicted outbreaks in Washington, Oregon and New York which are all experiencing an influx of measles cases.

“For measles, most experts believe that there will be one to two deaths per 1,000 cases, most likely infants. We are set to see over 1,000 cases in the U.S. in 2019. So, for the first time since the 1980s, we may expect infant deaths from measles in the U.S.,” said the study’s lead author, Sahotra Sarkar, a philosophy and integrative biology professor at UT Austin and an expert on public health, in UT news. “We have long known that vaccine avoidance is a critical public health issue in the U.S. and Europe. Our results show how travel from regions elsewhere compounds this risk.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety has confirmed 15 measles cases in Texas this year, including one in each: Tarrant, Dallas and Denton counties and two in Collin County. Comparatively, Texas had nine measles cases in 2018 and only one in 2017.

Already this year, more than 760 cases of measles have been confirmed in the United States, the highest number in decades.

Physicians at Cook Children’s call this news frustrating because measles is a disease once thought to be all but gone from the planet. Texas has one of the highest rates of unvaccinated children in the U.S., partly due to a 2003 state law allowing parents to opt out of getting their children immunized for reasons of conscience.

“It’s not a coincidence that as we have seen more people hesitant to receive the vaccine, we have seen the number of measles cases increase nationwide,” said Justin Smith, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s. “The numbers are very concerning.”

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. Measles is so contagious that if someone has it, 90 percent of the people around that person who are not immune will become infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children who are older than 12 months get two doses of MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.

Two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective.

"Populations who choose to not follow the recommended vaccine schedule are actually setting up the perfect conditions for the diseases they are unvaccinated for to erupt into an outbreak. It is really not a question of whether these outbreaks will occur but when," said Jason Terk, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician.

Other Texas counties to make the Top 25 were Harris at No. 9 and Travis at No. 22.

To learn more about where you can receive vaccines in the Tarrant County area, visit the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County website.

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