Annual count of U.S. measles cases since 2000;

In May of this year, researchers at the University of Texas — Austin shared the results of a study showing the U.S. counties facing the greatest threat of a measles outbreak. Three Texas counties landed in the top 25 nationally — Harris County, Tarrant County and Travis County.

In Harris and Tarrant counties, the elevated risk reflects the large number of international travelers who pass through the Houston and Dallas airports. In Travis County, while travel through Austin-Bergstrom International is a factor, the primary driver of elevated risk is vaccine refusal rates.

The reality of the rising risk of measles in our region is discouraging. As a physician with 30-plus years of experience caring for people, I am alarmed that a virus that we eradicated in the U.S. 20 years ago is surging back. Measles is a very contagious disease, but one which can be safely and effectively prevented with a simple, two-step vaccination regimen. It will cause real harm in the Hill Country if not stopped (again). Common complications from measles can result in severe ear infections with permanent hearing loss, pneumonia and encephalitis. We must rally to prevent it from becoming a public health crisis.

Parents need to know vaccines are safe. I want to reassure parents that there is no link between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The original article suggesting that there was, published in a British medical journal in 1998, was retracted in 2010.

In March of this year, a study of 600,000 children was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicating the MMR vaccine holds no viable risk for autism. Those who argue that big pharma is behind that study, as a way to sell more vaccines, are misguided. Pharmaceutical companies generate only minimal returns on vaccine production. Those who propose allowing children to contract measles naturally, to build immunity, ignore the fact that they expose a child to a one-in-500 chance of death versus a one-in-a-million chance of having a severe allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine. 

I encourage you to talk with your physician or pediatrician about the safe and effective, two-step measles vaccine. Knowing the truth about vaccinations is an important safeguard for your children and our community.

James Partin is chief medical officer at Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg. 

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