North and South America are the first region to rid itself of German measles, health officials announced Wednesday.
German measles vaccines, now part of childhood shots, were first licensed in 1969 and included in mass vaccination campaigns.
According to NBC News, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said it has been more than five years since there’s been a German measles case that originated in the Americas. Now, the only cases in the region are imported from other parts of the world.
That’s enough time to certify German measles as the third infectious disease to be eliminated from the Americas, they said. Smallpox was eliminated in 1971 and polio in 1994.
This “is a historic achievement for the Americas,” said Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the WHO.
Rubella, as German measles is called, is viral and spread through coughing and sneezing, resulting in a three-day rash and low-grade fever. It is typically a mild illness.
But in pregnant women, rubella can cause birth defects. During a U.S epidemic in the mid-1960s, thousands of infants died and thousands were born with birth defects.
According to NBC News, by 2004, German measles had been eliminated in the United States and it fell away in other countries as well, thanks to vaccination campaigns targeting both measles and German measles. The last German measles case originating in the Americas was reported in 2009 in Argentina.
Measles has been harder to eliminate because that disease spreads more easily and the German measles vaccine is more effective, said Dr. Susan Reef, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official. Elimination doesn’t equal eradication — cases can still be imported into countries where any disease has been eliminated.