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PAHO Warns of Measles Risks for World Cup Travelers

Washington, D.C., June 2, 2006 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization is warning travelers to the World Cup in Germany to make certain they are immunized against measles, in light of recent measles outbreaks reported in Germany and other European countries.

"There is a real possibility that residents of the Americas traveling to Germany will be exposed to measles virus. PAHO recommends that every country in the Region adopt measures to prevent importation of measles virus to the Americas from overseas," said Dr. Jon K. Andrus, lead senior advisor of PAHO's immunization program. "We are telling country health officials that any resident of the Americas traveling outside the Western Hemisphere should be immune to measles before departure, and health care workers in the public and private sectors should be alerted to the possibility of measles importations," he said.

Since January 2006, the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia has reported 1,106 cases of measles, the largest measles outbreak recorded in Germany since mandatory notification was introduced in 2001. Three cities in that region, Cologne, Dortmund, and Gelsenkirchen, are hosting soccer games in the 2006 World Cup, and six of the eight teams from the Americas are scheduled to play in those cities. Measles outbreaks have also been reported in Denmark, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine.

In the Americas, since the goal of measles elimination was adopted in September 1994, measles incidence has decreased by more than 99 percent. A recent outbreak in Venezuela, the first in four years, which resulted in 49 confirmed cases, began with a case imported from Spain. Mexico has reported 22 confirmed cases, Canada 7, and the United States 13. All other countries have no confirmed cases of measles. Transmission of the D6 measles virus genotype-which began in 1995 and caused large outbreaks in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti-was interrupted in September 2001. The subsequent transmission of the D9 measles virus genotype in Venezuela was interrupted in November 2002, 14 months after it had started. The previous Venezuelan outbreak was considered the last instance of widespread endemic transmission of the measles virus in the Americas.

"As long as measles eradication is not pursued globally, imported or import-related measles cases will continue to occur in the Americas," Andrus said. "However, the experience in several countries shows that, when high coverage with measles-containing vaccine exists, reliable detection and aggressive follow-up of suspect cases will limit the consequences of measles virus importations." In the World Cup, which starts June 9, teams from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States are playing in the North Rhine-Westphalia region where cases have been reported.

Travelers who have no vaccination record are being advised to obtain measles-containing vaccines, preferably as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or measles-rubella (MR), ideally at least two weeks before leaving for Europe, depending on their country's immunization schedules.

PAHO, which works to improve health and raise living standards in all the countries of the Americas, was successful in eradicating polio from the Western Hemisphere in 1994.

For more information please contact , PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3459.