According to the World Health Association and the Pan American Health Organization, part of the UN, infectious measles has been eliminated in the Americas. This includes Canada, the United States, Mexico and Central America, and South America. The United States was the first to eliminate homegrown measles in 2000, and the other countries follow suit quite quickly.
Even with this declaration of measles-free continents, each region still sees some cases of measles every year. How can the Americas get the WHO's seal of approval if measles still occurs?
Measles: Description and History
Measles is a viral disease that is highly contagious and attacks primarily children. Besides the red, bumpy rash that shares the name with the disease overall, afflicted people can also run a fever, have a dry cough, and have upper respiratory complaints such as runny noses and sneezing.
This infectious disease became such a problem in the past because it is passed from person to person quite easily. The virus can survive in tiny droplets of water, such as those emitted when someone calls or sneezes. It can be contracted by sharing a cup, shaking a hand, or even touching a doorknob or pen that someone with the disease had before you.
Before the development of the vaccine in 1963, over 500,000 cases of measles reported in the United States alone every year. Approximately 500 people died annually. These numbers represent only the amount of people who were reported to the CDC as having measles. Because it was such a common childhood disease, many cases were simply treated at home or by the local doctor and not reported to anyone.
Now, decades after the vaccine became a common thing for all children to get, worldwide measles cases are down below 300,000 annually. In the United States and the rest of North, Central, and South America plus the Caribbean, these cases are virtually nil.
Still Outbreaks of Measles in the Americas
Even though the international health organizations have deemed the Americas measles-free does not mean that no people on these continents will contract it. For example, a 2015 outbreak centered around California's Disneyland song over 150 people contract this viral disease. However, the source of the problem was a visitor from another country. It did not originate inside the Americas.
While the declaration that America has eliminated measles is very comforting for families with young children, a recent decrease in the vaccination numbers has caused some worry throughout the medical community. During the above mentioned Disneyland measles outbreak, the CDC worked with doctors to determine both the source and the vaccination records of those afflicted. 55 percent of them have not received a vaccination for one reason or another.
Moving forward, measles will probably continue to be a matter of foreign involvement in the Americas. Maintaining the low levels of cases and the lack of rapidly spreading contagion, vaccinations are recommended for everyone. As they become more readily available on other continents, perhaps measles can be finally eliminated once and for all.