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The measles virus has been eliminated from North and South America for the first time

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Today we say bye-bye to the indigenous transmission of measles.
Carissa Etienne, Pan-American Health Organzation

Measles has been completely eradicated from North and South America, the World Health Organization announced on Tuesday.

It's the first time the virus has been eliminated in an entire global region. The highly contagious disease once killed 2.6 million people a year before a vaccine was introduced in the 1960s.

Other viruses that got eliminated in the Americas

  • Smallpox (eliminated worldwide in 1972)
  • Polio (1994)
  • Rubella/German measles (2015) 

Smallpox is the only infection that's been eliminated worldwide. Polio is close, but it's still transmitting in Pakistan.

Let's get technical

Elimination doesn't mean you can't get measles at all, it just means there are no cases in that region. Theoretically, you could still get measles elsewhere and bring it to the United States.

In fact, 244,704 measles cases were reported in 2015, according to WHO. And since some parents still deny vaccinations for their children, outbreaks are still possible in the United States, like a 2014 case that got 147 people sick, according to NBC News.

WHO drove the point home on Twitter with #VaccinesWork.

But they offered this reminder for parents last week.

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