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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Vaccines: 1, Rubella: 0

By Phil Plait

Oh, I do so love good medical science news: Rubella has been eliminated in the Americas (North, Central, and South).

Oh, yeah.

Rubella is also called German measles but is caused by an entirely different virus. In children and adults it’s an irritating but generally mild infection, causing a red rash, mild fever, and swollen glands.

But for pregnant women, it’s devastating. An infection during the first trimester can mean an increasingly distressing (to say the very, very least) list of problems for the baby, including deafness, cataracts, and severe heart, liver, spleen, and brain damage … as well as potentially death.

An epidemic in the U.S. (which spread from Europe) in the early 1960s led to 20,000 cases of babies suffering from the various syndromes listed above, including thousands of miscarriages. There have been other outbreaks since then, though none so severe.

Still, worldwide, 100,000 babies every year are born with rubella syndromes. One hundred thousand.

But in the 1970s the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was introduced, and in the past 15 years widely promoted. During that time, cases plummeted. The last native (non-imported) rubella case in the Americas was in Argentina in 2009. It’s taken several years to confirm, but now scientists have declared it gone from the Americas. The announcement was made at a meeting of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization.

Rubella is still out there in the world, though, so if you’re traveling, make sure your immunizations are up to date.

This makes three viruses eliminated in the U.S., together with smallpox (also wiped out worldwide) and polio.

Three vicious scourges against humanity in the Americas, gone. Eliminated due to human ingenuity, human compassion, and human will.

Oh, yes: and vaccines.

My congratulations to the entire medical community for doing what’s right: saving lives, and making sure the good word gets out.

That work, though, is never done. Worldwide, many of these diseases still rage, and we must not falter. We have it in our power to do so much more good.

And we will. Measles: You’re next.

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