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August 24, 2018
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Endemic transmission of measles re-established in Venezuela, officials say

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Carissa F. Etienne

Endemic transmission of measles has been re-established in Venezuela, officials announced today.

The other 34 member states in the Americas remain free of locally transmitted cases, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.

PAHO director Carissa F. Etienne, MBBS, MSc, urged all countries to rapidly increase vaccination coverage.

“It is vital that we continue vaccinating in order to reach more than 95% of our children everywhere,” Etienne said in a news release. “We must also strengthen national epidemiological surveillance and establish rapid response teams to expeditiously manage suspected cases, prevent new cases and halt outbreaks. These measures to sustain elimination were agreed to by Ministers of Health in 2017. These commitments must be renewed.”

The Americas accounted for just 0.6% of the 149,142 measles cases worldwide in 2017, according to the release. In September 2016, the Americas became the first WHO region to be declared free of measles after going 14 years without an endemic case. The declaration followed a 2-year effort to administer the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in the Americas.

The majority of countries in the region reported their last endemic cases more than 18 years ago, according PAHO. Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.

PAHO said coverage rates of the MMR vaccine in the Americas are currently less than 95%, with lower immunization coverage observed in some municipalities and settlements.

Venezuela reported its first cases in the current outbreak in July 2017, confirming the outbreak was due to a virus strain originally reported in Asia and later Europe, where measles cases this year have already nearly doubled the 2017 total.

As of Aug. 20, Venezuela has reported 3,545 confirmed cases of measles in 2018, including 62 deaths. Ten other countries in the region have reported 1,459 confirmed cases and six deaths, according to PAHO.

“A country is no longer considered to be measles-free when the same type of virus has been circulating for more than 12 continuous months,” PAHO reported in the release. “The recurrence of endemic circulation of measles virus, as well as current outbreaks, is evidence of existing gaps in vaccination coverage, which must be urgently addressed.”