China View, via Google News, reports:

BEIJING, Mar. 22 (Xinhuanet) — Rubella, a major cause of serious birth defects such as deafness and blindness, also known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), has been eliminated from the United States, health officials said Monday.

Officials say that while rubella is no longer a significant health threat in the US, they warned that the virus that causes it has yet to be eradicated from the Western Hemisphere. They announced no changes in the recommendations for immunizations for children and women.

But Americans still must vaccinate their children, and women who might get pregnant must still ensure they are immune because the disease exists elsewhere, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In 1989, CDC established a rubella elimination goal despite a resurgence in rubella and measles cases during the measles epidemic from 1989-1991, reported rubella cases in the 1990s declined to all-time low numbers. From 1990 through 1999, only 117 cases of CRS were reported, 66 of these babies were born in 1990 and 1991. In 2001, for the first time in history, less than 100 cases were reported in the United States. In 2003, there were only eight rubella cases and one CRS case reported in the United States. In 2004, there were only nine rubella cases reported in the United States.

Rubella is a usually mild viral infection that causes a fever and a rash.

But early in pregnancy it can cause birth defects ranging from deafness to severe brain damage and death.

“During 1964 and 1965 a rubella epidemic in the United States caused an estimated 12.5 million cases of rubella and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome which led to more than 11,600 babies born deaf, 11,250 fetal deaths, 2,100 neonatal (newborn) deaths, 3,580 babies born blind and 1,800 babies born mentally retarded,” the CDC said in a statement.

A vaccine was licensed in 1969 and since then the rubella virus has been included in the measles, mumps and rubella or MMR combined vaccine routinely given to babies and young children.

Now the CDC estimates that 93 percent of the nation’s children under 2 get the vaccine.