WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) -- The 45 countries comprising the Americas region are the first to completely eradicate rubella, or German measles, the World Health Organization announced.
Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome are now the third and fourth vaccine-preventable diseases to be eliminated from the region. Smallpox and polio were the first two.
WHO made the announcement last week during a meeting with the Pan American Health Organization. It coincides with the 13th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas.
"The elimination of rubella from the Americas is a historic achievement that reflects the collective will of our region's countries to work together to achieve ambitious public health milestones," said PAHO/WHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. "Ours was the first region to eradicate smallpox, the first to eliminate polio, and now the first to eliminate rubella. All four achievements prove the value of immunization and how important it is to make vaccines available even to the remotest corners of our hemisphere."
Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of WHO said the eradication is the result of a Global Vaccine Action Plan started three years ago.
Rubella has similar symptoms, like a red rash, as measles, but is particularly lethal when contracted by pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage or CRS, a group of birth defects like blindness, deafness and congenital heart defects.
Dr. James Cherry, professor of pediatrics at David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, said rubella is easier to eradicate than, say, measles, because the vaccine is more effective and the disease is less contagious.
"The bad news is that rubella can circulate in the population for a while and can get missed because the symptoms are mild," he said. "An outbreak is recognized only when babies affected by congenital rubella syndrome (because the mothers were infected during pregnancy) show up.
"It is easy to accept what the Pan American Health Organization has said because the vaccine prevention program in the United States and the rest of the Americas has ensured that there are no endemic cases and the circulation is interrupted in the population. However, rubella is still widespread in other parts of the world including Europe. In order to completely eradicate rubella a global program similar to the one for polio has to be established."