Measles nearly eradicated in Western Hemisphere, health officials say

Thursday, December 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Measles has been all but wiped out in the Western Hemisphere, dropping from 250,000 cases in 1990 to fewer than 500 so far this year, health officials said Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pan American Health Organization attributed the dramatic drop _ more than 99.5 percent _ to an international push to get children vaccinated.

Through Dec. 8, just 469 cases had been reported this year in the 41 nations from Canada to Argentina. Ninety-five of those cases _ none fatal _ were in the United States, and almost all of them can be traced to other nations where measles is more common.

``It's incredible,'' said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, vaccines chief for the Washington-based Pan American group. ``It's fantastic news.''

Measles is one of the world's most contagious diseases. It causes a rash all over the body and high fever. The most severe infections can kill, or cause blindness and brain damage.

Nearly every American child got measles before a vaccine was introduced in 1963. Cases dropped off sharply after that but surged as recently as 1989 to 1991, killing 120 Americans.

A 2000 CDC survey said 91 percent of American children had been vaccinated against measles. The few lingering U.S. cases are mostly because of ``heavy travel to the United States from endemic nations,'' de Quadros said.

Health officials remain concerned about Central America and the Caribbean, where vaccination rates are low. Vaccines have covered just 75 percent of the population in Colombia and 80 percent in Haiti.

The disease still rages outside the West. It kills more than 800,000 children worldwide each year, more than half of them in central Africa.