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LIFE, LIBERTY AND FREEDOM FROM DISEASE

It's still too early to declare total victory over a disease that was once a common episode of childhood. But reports from the Centers for Disease Control indicate cases of measles in the United States are now all but unknown.

Only 100 cases were recorded last year, and all but 29 of them involved infections brought into the country from abroad. That's astonishing, because just a generation ago nearly every child in this country would get the measles before reaching the mid-teens.

Most of those cases involved the temporary misery of high fevers and painful rashes, but some were far more serious. Measles caused deaths, blindness and brain damage. At its peak in 1941, it infected 894,134 people and took 2,279 lives.

One of the most contagious diseases known, it still kills roughly a million people each year in the rest of the world, about half in central Africa. But in America, widespread mandatory immunizations -- using a vaccine that became available in 1963 -- have all but conquered the killer.

"We're not quite making a declaration," said Dr. Mark Papania, the CDC official in charge of the measles program. The caution is wise -- but by any measure, the campaign to eradicate measles is still a triumph for public health efforts in this country.

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