A small measles outbreak in Texas has spread among people who were never vaccinated against the disease — an alarming trend in the state.
The first known case was tweeted about by the Texas Department of State Health Services last Friday. By Tuesday, the number of measles cases in Ellis County, Texas, increased to six after the patient went to the movies. Local officials then warned people who recently went to that theater to watch for symptoms of the disease, but said none of the new cases were linked to the cinema.
Texas is one of the 19 states in the U.S. that does not have a law that requires people to get vaccinations. Parents can opt out of public school vaccine requirements if it goes against their “conscientious” beliefs thanks to a 2003 law. The rate of parents in the state requesting an exemption has gradually increased since the law changed, HuffPost reported.
The southern state is also home to Texans for Vaccine Choice, a PAC that throws its support behind politicians who share their donors’ distrusting views towards vaccinations. Texas is also the current home of disgraced UK doctor Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield was stripped of his license in England after it was revealed that he falsified data in a since-retracted study that alleged a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism.
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The unsubstantiated claim that autism is caused by any type of vaccination has been disproven and contradicted by multiple studies a number of times.
“As both a vaccine scientist and autism parent who has written about why vaccines don’t cause autism, to me these drops in vaccine coverage represent a potential self-inflicted wound,” dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez, told HuffPost. Hotez predicted that Texas’ declining vaccination rates would lead to an outbreak in the winter or spring of 2018.
“With this latest measles outbreak in North Texas, we now have the wound and it’s an ugly one,” he said. “I hope it does not expand into a much larger outbreak.”
During the 2003-2004 school year, the first year in which parents could conscientiously object to vaccinations for their children, 2,314 of them did, according to the Texas DSHS. That number rocketed to 52,756 for the 2016-2017 school year – not including home-schooled kids.
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“Texas has seen a 20-fold increase in non-medical vaccine exemptions since 2003,” Hotez said. “(Meaning,) we have some schools with 20 to 40% of the children not being vaccinated.”
Measles is a highly contagious disease. It has a “basic reproduction number” of 12 to 18, meaning every infected person can make 12 to 18 other unvaccinated people sick. Because it is so transmittable, the World Health Organization said in a 2009 study that communities need to vaccinate against it at a rate of 90 to 95% to prevent measles from spreading.
HuffPost reported that the Ebola virus, to compare, during its last outbreak, had a reproduction rate of only 1.5 to 2.5.
Measles symptoms include cough, runny nose, red and inflamed eyes, sore throat, fever and its signature, blotchy rash, all of which may not present for as long as three weeks.
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A baby is typically vaccinated after her first birthday and a second is administered before the child turns six.
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