Doctor holding vaccine vial in front of mother holding child (© AP Images)
Years of intense efforts to vaccinate children against measles have paid off. (© AP Images)

The region of the Americas is the first in the world to eliminate measles, international public health experts announced September 27.

The Pan American Health Organization said this achievement comes after 22 years of vaccination campaigns throughout North, South and Central America.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing.

“This is a historic day for our region and indeed the world,” said Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization.

Before mass vaccination was initiated in 1980, measles caused nearly 2.6 million deaths worldwide each year.

Measles is the fifth vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated from the Americas, after the regional eradication of smallpox in 1971, poliomyelitis in 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015, the group said.

While measles may have been “eliminated” from the Americas, that doesn’t mean countries in the region won’t see any cases. “Elimination” means that measles are no longer endemic, or constantly present, in an area.

Officials warned that cases of the highly infectious childhood illness can still be brought into the region by people traveling from other countries where the disease continues to circulate.

Public health officials say the goal is to eliminate measles worldwide, joining the global eradication of smallpox and the near elimination of polio, something that Etienne says can be achieved when countries work together.

This article draws on a report from the Voice of America.