The World Health Organization (WHO) had some great news for the Americas this week. For the first time, homegrown cases of measles have been eliminated in all of North and South America — from Canada to Chile.
“Today we say bye-bye to the indigenous transmission of measles,” Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (the Americas arm of WHO), said at a meeting in Washington. “We celebrate this historic day in which the scourge has been eliminated,” she added.
Via NBC News:
Smallpox was eliminated from the Americas in 1971; polio was eliminated in 1994 and rubella, also known as German measles, was eliminated in 2015.
Smallpox was eradicated globally in 1972. No other infection has been eradicated, but WHO is trying hard with polio.
“After a year of targeted actions and enhanced surveillance, the last case of measles in Brazil was registered in July 2015,” PAHO said.
Eradication and elimination are two different things. When a disease is eradicated, it doesn’t exist anywhere. Elimination means there are no more homegrown cases but the infection can still be imported from elsewhere to cause outbreaks.
“It is my hope that other regions are encouraged by the lessons of the Americas,” WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan told the meeting.
“It is critical that we continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates, and it is crucial that any suspected measles cases be immediately reported to the authorities for rapid follow-up.”
The U.S. saw an outbreak of measles in 2014 and 2015 that was linked to an imported case at California’s Disneyland. At least 147 people were infected in that outbreak.
Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, the highly contagious viral disease still “remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally,” according to WHO.
Approximately 114,900 people throughout the world died from measles in 2014—”mostly children under the age of 5.”