Texas mega-church learns the hard way that God alone is a useless defence against disease

THE 1,500-member Eagle Mountain International Church in northeast Tarrant County, Texas, has an “ambivalent” attitude towards modern medicine and many of its congregants use “alternative medicine” and choose not to immunise their children.

The result?  An outbreak of measles in Tarrant County which then spread to neighboring Denton County, where five new cases were reported. A total of 20 cases has so far been recorded.

Measles can lead to serious conditions such as deafness and blindness and can, in rare circumstances, lead to death.

Measles can lead to serious conditions such as deafness and blindness and can, in rare circumstances, lead to death.

All the cases have been traced to the church, and the outbreak appears to have occurred within a group of families that had chosen not to get vaccinated, officials said.

Almost 98 percent of students in Texas are vaccinated against the measles when they enter kindergarten, a state requirement for public and private schools, according to the state health department. But about one percent of students obtain “conscientious exemptions” for all vaccinations.

In this outbreak, all the infected children in Tarrant County were being home-schooled, said Al Roy, a spokesman for the health department.

The measles outbreak originated from a man who travelled to Indonesia on a mission trip where he was exposed to the infectious disease.

Upon his return, he visited the Eagle Mountain church, which is about 50 miles northwest of Dallas. The church’s risk manager, Robert Hayes, said the man, who was not a member of the church, shook hands and gave hugs to many others.

Dr Karen Smith, who runs her own medical practice and the Eagle Mountain church clinic, said church leaders do not vocalize a position on immunisations.

Ambivalent is a good word. No one forbids it and I think the congregation varies widely.

Health officials across North Texas expressed frustration that such a highly contagious disease had found its way into a group that appeared to be unvaccinated by choice.

Said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services

We have been worried about these pockets of people out there, especially children, who were not getting immunised. We’re seeing the reality of what that means in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The church released a statement confirming the measles outbreak among its congregants:

The ministry has held free immunisations clinics for employees and church members to assist them in obtaining the best medical care for their families. We continue to follow up on pending and confirmed cases to help in any way we can to keep the outbreak contained. We ask that others join with us in prayer over this outbreak, and we believe that God is moving on behalf of each affected family.