A measles outbreak in Texas is a major warning sign of a public health calamity, experts say. According to the Houston Chronicle, five cases of measles were reported in the last week in the greater Houston area, making Texas the 11th state to report a measles outbreak in 2019.
The five cases were announced Monday, February 4. Four cases involved children under the age of two. The fifth case involved a woman between the ages of 25 and 35.
“This is a reminder for people to be on guard and be up to date on their vaccinations,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, the executive director of Harris County Public Health. “Measles, a serious disease, is in our community.”
Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease passed through coughs and sneezes that had been almost eliminated in the U.S. until recently.
Common symptoms include a fever, cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, Koplik’s spots inside the mouth, and a red rash that starts on the face. Unlike psoriasis, which affects 3% of the population, a measles rash begins as flat red spots and can spread down the rest of the body.
Compared to a person’s average risk of breast cancer in the U.S. (which is a one-in-eight chance), a non-vaccinated person sharing a living space with someone who has measles has a nine-in-10 chance of becoming infected.
Measles kills 100,000 people annually worldwide, mostly children who have not been immunized. Health officials recommend that children between the ages of 12 and 15 months receive a measles vaccine to keep from getting infected or infecting others.
Climate change has had a major impact on the environment including a resurgence in several diseases and a rise in pests in Texas’ 60 different soil types. But the reason for measles’ comeback is local rather than global.
In 2003, the Texas legislature passed a law that made it easier to exempt children from getting vaccinated before allowing them to attend public school.
Texas had previously allowed children to be exempted from immunizations for medical and religious purposes beginning in 1972. But the law changed in 2003 to allow parents to file a waiver based on “reasons of conscience.”
The rise of the anti-vaccination movement has caused the number of waivers signed in Texas to soar from 2,314 signed waivers during the 2003-04 school year to 56,738 in 2017-18.
Researchers have debunked the theory that immunizations may cause mental and developmental disorders, which is the leading cause for the anti-vaccine movement. But anti-vaccinators such as those in Texans for Vaccine Choice say they’re standing up for parental rights.
“The state of Texas doesn’t own our kids,” said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, at a Texans for Vaccine Choice rally. “They should be looking for ways to protect parents because we know what’s best for our kids.”
Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, says the anti-vaccination movement has made it difficult to pass any bills that would make it harder to get an immunization waiver.
It took a meningitis outbreak, Davis said, that caused the death of a college student and the amputation of another student’s legs and fingers before the state legislature passed a 2011 law requiring college students to have a meningitis vaccination.
“I hope it doesn’t take that now,” said Davis.