Rubella Eliminated in United States, CDC Officials Announce
Rubella -- a virus that can cause birth defects, miscarriages and stillbirths -- is no longer present in the United States, CDC officials announced on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Rubella, or German measles, is a mild virus that causes rash and fever but also can result in birth defects such as deafness, heart problems, mental retardation and liver and spleen damage when contracted by pregnant women, CDC said (Castelli, Los Angeles Times, 3/22). Rubella, which is less contagious than measles, is transmitted through coughing and other close contact (Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger, 3/22).
In 1964 and 1965, an outbreak of the rubella caused 12.5 million infections in the United States and resulted in about 20,000 cases of birth defects, 6,200 stillbirths and at least 5,000 abortions (Brown, Washington Post, 3/21). A rubella vaccine licensed in 1969 is often administered to infants and young children in combination with measles and mumps vaccines (Reuters/Boston Globe, 3/22).
Between 1969 and 2004, rubella infections worldwide decreased from 57,686 cases to nine cases, none of which originated in the United States, according to CDC. CDC estimates that 93% of U.S. children younger than age two and 95% of school-aged children have received the rubella vaccine (Los Angeles Times, 3/22).
"The elimination of rubella in the United States is a tremendous step in protecting the health and well being of pregnant women and infants," CDC Director Julie Gerberding said (CDC release, 3/21). However, she added, "There are still parts of the world where immunization is not common or not common enough to prevent children from developing congenital rubella." As result, U.S. children should continue to receive the rubella vaccine, Gerberding said (Los Angeles Times, 3/22).
Steven Cochi, director of CDC National Immunization Program, said, "The importance of continuing vaccination cannot be emphasized enough. Cases of rubella continue to be brought into the country by worldwide travelers and because of bordering countries where the disease is active" (Reuters/Boston Globe, 3/22).
According to the Times, the United States is the second nation in the world to eliminate rubella; Cuba eliminated the disease in 1995. The Pan American Health Organization said that the Western Hemisphere had fewer than 2,000 rubella infections last year, and the group hopes to eliminate the disease in North and South America by 2010 through a large vaccination program (Los Angeles Times, 3/22).
Cochi said that the elimination of rubella worldwide is possible, but he added, "Right now, the world needs to focus its resources on completing polio eradication and the initiative to reduce measles deaths" (Manning, USA Today, 3/22).
According to the Times, medical experts praised the CDC announcement about the elimination of rubella in the United States but said that the federal government should encourage vaccinations for other diseases, such as influenza, pneumonia and hepatitis B.
Ronald Davis, a trustee for the American Medical Association, said, "We need to celebrate successes like this but also redouble our efforts to deliver vaccines that have not penetrated the population as much" (Los Angeles Times, 3/22).