A half-century after scientists first introduced a vaccine to combat measles, the disease has been eliminated from a swath of the globe stretching from Canada to Chile — and all the countries in between.
The region is the first in the world to have eliminated the viral disease, the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization announced September 27. That’s different from eradication, which means an infectious disease has been scrubbed out permanently, worldwide. So far, only smallpox has been eradicated.
Though measles outbreaks still crop up occasionally in the Americas (this year 54 people have contracted the disease in the United States), they stem from travelers bringing the virus in from other parts of the world. A home-grown outbreak in the Americas hasn’t occurred since a 2002 outbreak in Venezuela.
Because measles still circulates widely elsewhere, vaccination remains crucial, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne noted in a press statement. “Our work on this front is not yet done,” she said. “We cannot become complacent with this achievement but must rather protect it carefully.”