Latin American countries urged to boost vaccinations amid Venezuelan measles outbreak

In 2016, a crowd of Venezuelans waited to cross the Simon Bolivar Bridge into Colombia.
In 2016, a crowd of Venezuelans waited to cross the Simon Bolivar Bridge into Colombia. AP

The Pan American Health Organization on Friday urged Latin American countries to boost measles vaccinations, as an outbreak in Venezuela has killed more than 60 people and threatens to erode regional gains.

The PAHO said that since July 2017, Venezuela has had 3,545 confirmed cases of measles that have resulted in 62 deaths. In addition, 10 countries in the region have reported 1,459 cases of measles and six deaths — some related to Venezuela’s growing exodus.

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The Americas became the first region in the world to be declared measles free in 2016 and the majority of nations in Latin America haven’t had endemic cases of the virus in almost two decades. A country loses its “measles free” status when the same strain of the virus circulates for more than 12 consecutive months — and that has now happened in Venezuela.

While 34 member states of the organization “remain measles free, endemic transmission of the virus has now been reestablished in Venezuela,” the PAHO said in a statement. “To stop further spread of measles throughout the region, the director of PAHO, Carissa F. Etienne, has urged all countries to rapidly increase vaccination coverage.”

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The group said 95 percent of children under 5 must be vaccinated in order to effectively stop outbreaks.

Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The United States has also seen an uptick in measles this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 124 cases so far this year — including some in Florida. In all of 2017, there were only 118 cases of the measles in the United States.

Venezuela’s deep economic, social and political crisis is spilling over its borders, as more than 1.5 million people have fled the country in recent years. Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina have all reported measles outbreaks related to Venezuelan migrants.

Next week, the governments of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will hold meetings to address the Venezuelan crisis.