Western Hemisphere Wipes Out Its Third Virus : Goats and Soda It took 15 years and 250 million vaccines, but this week, health authorities officially declared North America and South America free of rubella — a virus that can cause severe birth defects.
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Western Hemisphere Wipes Out Its Third Virus

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Western Hemisphere Wipes Out Its Third Virus

Western Hemisphere Wipes Out Its Third Virus

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It took 15 years and hundreds of millions of vaccines. This week, North and South America have been declared officially free of the childhood disease rubella. As NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports, this is only the third human virus eradicated from the two continents.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Rubella is also called German measles. In children, it causes only a mild illness with a rash and sometimes a fever. But when pregnant women catch rubella, their babies can develop birth defects, like heart problems, blindness and learning disabilities. Now the director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the Western Hemisphere is the first region to completely wipe out the rubella virus.

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CARISSA ETIENNE: The fight against rubella has paid off with what I believe will be one of the important Pan American public health achievements of the 21st century.

DOUCLEFF: In other places around the world, more than 100,000 babies each year still catch a serious form of rubella. The Americans were able to stop rubella with huge vaccination campaigns for everyone from babies to adults. Now, this doesn't mean we're never going to see rubella again in the U.S. People still bring it here from other countries. But it doesn't usually spread because so many Americans are vaccinated. PAHO's Etienne says the Americas were the first region in the world to eradicate smallpox in 1971, then polio in 1994, and they've already got their sights on another target.

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ETIENNE: With rubella under our belt, it is now time to roll up our sleeves and to finish the job of eliminating measles as well.

DOUCLEFF: PAHO says they're close to wiping out measles, but recent outbreaks here in the U.S. and in Brazil have been major setbacks. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

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