The Western Hemisphere is the first region of the world to eliminate the two diseases

Washington, D.C., 3 May 2011 (PAHO) - The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is urging international travelers to get vaccinated against measles and rubella before visiting the Western Hemisphere, to reduce the risk of reintroducing these two diseases, which have been eliminated from the Americas.

PAHO/WHO issued the epidemiological alert last week in view of increased international travel expected for upcoming cultural and sporting events hosted by countries in the Americas.

In addition to recommending vaccination of travelers to the Americas, the alert also recommends that residents of the Western Hemisphere get vaccinated before travelling to other regions. "Travelers who have not been vaccinated against measles and rubella are at risk of contracting these diseases when visiting countries where the viruses are currently circulating," says PAHO/WHO.

Women of childbearing age need to make special efforts to ensure they are vaccinated against rubella, which can cause fetal death or serious birth defects if contracted during pregnancy.

The Region of the Americas is the only region in the world that has eliminated measles and rubella, mirroring earlier successes in becoming the first region to eliminate smallpox and polio. The last case of endemic measles was reported in the Western Hemisphere in 2002 and the last case of endemic rubella in 2009. The countries of the hemisphere, coordinated by PAHO/WHO, are currently in the process of documenting and officially verifying the elimination of these two diseases. While imported cases occur sporadically, widespread vaccination has prevented their spread and is considered essential to maintaining elimination.

According to the alert, international travelers over 6 months of age who are unable to provide evidence of immunity-through an immunization record or a positive blood test for measles and rubella antibodies-should get vaccinated for measles and rubella or, preferably, should get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered at least two weeks before departure.

Exceptions to these recommendations include travelers who present medical indications that they should not undergo vaccination for measles and rubella. Infants under 6 months old should not be vaccinated. Infants who receive the MMR vaccine before their first birthday must be revaccinated according to the vaccination schedule in their country.

The alert also urges travelers to be on the alert during their trip and upon their return for symptoms including fever, rash, cough, runny nose or conjunctivitis.

Travelers who believe they have contracted measles or rubella should confine themselves to their lodging, except for visiting a doctor, and should avoid public places and contact with other people for seven days following the onset of rash.

The alert, which was sent to the ministries of health of PAHO/WHO member countries, urges health authorities to include private healthcare providers in their surveillance systems and to alert healthcare workers in both the private and public sectors to the possible presence of both diseases, reminding them that suspected cases must be notified immediately to health authorities.

The alert also encourages the healthcare sector to require proof of immunity for measles and rubella as a pre-requisite for employment (for medical, administrative and security personnel). It also recommends vaccination of personnel in the tourism and transportation sectors.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It serves as the regional office of the World Health Organization, and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.