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Americas declared free of measles; immunization, international cooperation praised

By Shawn Price
Americas declared free of measles; immunization, international cooperation praised
The Western Hemisphere, -- North, South and Central America have been declared the first region of the world free of endemic measles by global health authorities. The declaration was made in large part due to strict vaccination programs. File photo by Arianne Starnes/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The Americas -- North, South and Central -- have been declared the first region of the world free of endemic measles by global health authorities on Tuesday.

Endemic measles (locally spread cases not brought in from elsewhere in the world) was last reported in the Americas in 2002. The disease can lead to blindness, pneumonia, and sometimes is fatal.

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The Pan American Health Organization said the reason it took 14 years to make the declaration was because communication between the health departments of various countries was often poor. The group also cited warring factions and unvaccinated migrant populations on the move.

The measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in 2014 was quickly determined to have been brought in from outside the United States, thanks to advances in being able to track viral sources.

Despite the movement by some parents to avoid childhood vaccinations, experts point to strict vaccination programs as the main reason the declaration was made.

"Take the example of the country I come from," said Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, the Bahamian-born chair of the International Expert Committee for Elimination in the Americas. "You have 400,000 people [living there] and six million people who come and visit the country – and we don't have measles because of high immunization coverage.

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"That's the simple answer," Regis said. "Poor, male, female, whatever the social class, everyone needs to be immunized. High coverage is how you prevent the reintroduction of measles."

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