Rubella, a disease with severe consequences for unborn children, has been eliminated from the Americas, according to a scientific board put in place by global health authorities.
Rubella, also known as German measles, had once infected millions in the Western Hemisphere. In an outbreak that happened half a century ago in the United States, more than 11,000 fetuses died in the womb, were misscarried or were therapeutically aborted, while other 20,000 babies came to the world with defects.
“Although it has taken some 15 years, the fight against rubella has paid off. Now, with rubella under our belt, we need to roll up our sleeves and finish the job of eliminating measles, as well,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Foundation and Unicef also contributed to the announcement.
The Americas region is the first in the World Health Organization to eliminate rubella. The European region, which also includes Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia is expected to follow.
Some areas are still not ready to set precise target dates, so there the chances of the disease to be eliminated in the entire world before 2020 are very small, explained Dr. Susan E. Reef, who leads the team for rubella at the C.D.C.’s global immunization group.
Each year, around the world, approximately 120,000 children are born with serious birth defects caused by rubella.
Two other illnesses were first wiped out in the Americas: smallpox in 1971, and polio in 1994. Smallpox has since been eliminated worldwide. Polio is almost entirely gone, but has still been signaled in recent years, all remaining cases being recorded in Pakistan.
Although rubella only produces a mild rash and fever both in children and adults, it is very dangerous to fetuses in the first trimester. Many are born blind, deaf or with severe and permanent brain damage.
The last case in the Americas was reported in Argentina in 2009.
Only now, the experts could declare the disease eliminated, mostly because the rubella symptoms are more difficult to detect than, for example, smallpox or measles, which cause intense, easily observable rashes.
Public health authorities had to go trough 165 million records and carry out 1.3 million detailed checks to see if any rubella cases are still being observed.
Image Source: Vaccine Resistance Movement