Measles eradicated from the Americas, WHO confirms | Dec 07, 2016
On Sept. 25, 2016, the World Health Organization announced that North and South America are officially free of the measles. Although this is groundbreaking news, it’s important to remember that the virus is still alive and well in other regions around the world and can be imported that way. Here’s closer look at the measles and the progress made to reduce cases of the disease over the years:
The measles is a long-running virus that can be traced all the way back to the 9th century, when a Persian doctor published a written account of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 1912, the U.S. required physicians to report any cases of measles they encountered. Despite the increased vigilance, an average of 6,000 people died from the infection annually.
Measles was a fairly common disease – similar to chicken pox – over the years, affecting nearly all children by the time they reached 15 years of age. In 1954, Dr. Thomas C. Peebles – a former World War II pilot – and John F. Enders worked together to isolate the virus in 13-year-old David Edmonston’s blood. Over the next nine years, as the duo began working toward a vaccine, measles raged on. While three to four million people were infected in the U.S. every year during this time, an estimated 400 to 500 patients died.
In 1963, the first measles vaccine was licensed by Ender and a group of colleagues. The number of people affected had dropped by this time – due to better increased awareness, treatment and nutrition. Yet, those affected – mainly children – suffered from side effects including ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, according to the Los Angeles Times.
When a new vaccine was introduced in 1968, created by Maurice Hilleman and his colleagues, it made serious progress. The Edmonston-Enders strain – the only vaccine used since its development – is often combined with mumps and rubella vaccines to create the MMR vaccine.
Measles joins rubella
Measles isn’t the first of these viruses to be eliminated from North and South America. Rubella was also declared wiped out from the regions in 2015, according to BBC. This illness resulted in Zika-like symptoms for infected pregnant women. Health officials are still working to eradicate mumps from these areas, which causes fevers, headaches and swollen salivary glands and can have similar outcomes to both measles and rubella.
Better late than never
The CDC made the U.S. elimination of measles a goal to accomplish by 1982. Although the complete eradication didn’t come until 18 years later – the U.S. was free from measles in 2000; North and South America were free of the virus in 2016, the invention of a vaccine for the virus did wonders to reduce the number of infections happening annually.
Although there have been outbreaks since the vaccine was developed – one in 1989 among school-aged children and another in 2015 which affected 147 people – problems have been few and far between. Additionally, these surges brought the issue of vaccination back to the forefront of the measles discussion. While the former indicated a need for a second dose of the MMR strain for children, the latter pointed out the risk associated with not vaccinating kids at all. The case in California was caused by someone who had been infected outside the U.S., but most of those who caught the virus had either not been vaccinated or had not received the second strain.
While this measles news is important, public health officials need to continue to promote the positive outcomes of vaccinating children at a young age to ensure future outbreaks are kept to a minimum.