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German measles eradicated from Americas

Rubella, also known as German measles, has been eradicated from the Americas, health officials say. It is the third infectious disease after polio and smallpox to be eliminated from the two continents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) attributed the breakthrough to successful vaccine campaigns in North, Central and South America.

"This historic achievement culminates a 15-year elimination effort," the director of PAHO/WHO, Carissa Etienne, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

German measles is a mild illness spread through coughing or sneezing that causes a rash and low-grade fever. However, in pregnant women, the virus poses a serious threat to the fetus, causing stillbirths, mental defects and physical deformities.

Etienne noted on Wednesday that the American continents had "become the world's first region to be declared free of endemic transmission of rubella virus."

The last case of German measles was reported in Argentina in 2009, making the Americas free of the virus for five years.

Europe is slated to be declared rubella-free this year, followed by southeast Asia, according to PAHO.

The only other infectious diseases to have previously been eradicated from North and South America are smallpox in 1971 and polio in 1994.

kms/bw (AP, AFP)