Sep. 1, 1998 Washington, Aug. 28, 1998-Measles outbreaks in Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia have caused more than 4,000 cases and threaten the progress achieved in eradicating measles from the Americas, unless immediate measures are taken to "catch up" on vaccination programs, according to Dr. Cristina Nogueira, chief of the Pan American Health Organization's Expanded Program on Immunization.
"We recommend that the countries set aside the resources to buy vaccines, because we have a situation where measles is re-emerging and some countries may face vaccine shortages," said Dr. Nogueira. PAHO launched a campaign to eliminate measles from the Americas by the year 2000, which succeeded in cutting cases from 250,000 in 1990 to 2,109 in 1996.
Now, PAHO has issued an alert on the measles epidemics in Argentina and Bolivia, noting that Argentina has more than 3,000 confirmed cases, mostly in Buenos Aires. So far, 11 children have died in Argentina, Dr. Nogueira said. Measles, which can be transmitted by droplets or spray from an infected person, has been a major cause of illness and death worldwide, where more than one million children die from measles and its complications each year.
In Bolivia, the epidemic began in the area of Yacuiba, on the border with Argentina in May, and 111 cases have been confirmed, though no deaths have been reported. "In both countries, those most severely affected have been children under one year of age, and children between 1 and 4 years old," said Dr. Nogueira. Brazil, the site of a large outbreak last year with more than 51,000 cases, has reported 1,093 cases this year. The U.S. has reported 47 cases so far in 1998, Canada 7, Colombia 7, Venezuela 3, Paraguay 2, and one case was reported in Guatemala, PAHO figures show.
PAHO is supporting the affected countries with technical collaboration, ensuring availability of vaccines through its EPI Revolving Fund and inter-country cooperation on vaccine purchases, Dr. Nogueira said. PAHO is recommending that all countries take the following measures: 1) Intensify vaccination efforts, especially where there are high numbers of children susceptible to measles; 2) Strengthen surveillance for early detection of measles cases and rapidly investigate any suspected cases; 3) Strengthen their laboratories' capacity to handle measles samples for serology and virus isolation; and 4) Obtain political commitment and resources to carry out vaccination programs.
Measles vaccine, when purchased through PAHO's revolving fund, costs about 10 cents per dose, she said, and if countries buy the "triple" vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, the cost is 49 cents a dose. "A very important factor in the fight against measles is to mobilize community support and participation so everyone will be aware of vaccination campaigns and help report suspected cases of measles," Dr. Nogueira said.
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