American Samoa declares measles outbreak, closes schools

PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA (AP) – The government of American Samoa declared that the United States (US) territory has an outbreak of measles, a move that will lead to the closure of public schools starting today and a ban on gatherings in parks.

In its announcement last Friday of the measles outbreak, the government said the territory has nine cases of the disease. Five of those infected had been travelling outside the territory.

As for the other four people who tested positive for measles, “we’re suspecting that is local transmission – meaning that it’s most likely, that some of these travellers did transmit the measles virus to them, causing them to be sick,” Health Department Epidemiologist Dr Aifili John Tufa said.

Tufa said in a television broadcast that samples from those infected were sent to Hawaii for testing and the results came back last Thursday, resulting in the move to let the public know that “we are currently in the state of emergency” and a “measles outbreak.”

In the neighbouring independent nation of Samoa, more than 60 people have died, mostly children, from the measles and more than 4,000 were infected since the outbreak started in mid-October, health officials said.

American Samoa will get a measles vaccine shipment from the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection on Monday, Tufa said.

Data presented by health officials early this week during a cabinet meeting shows a 99.7 per cent vaccination rate for mumps, measles and rubella in the territory, officials said.

But Tufa said that more needs to be done to up the rate for the 1-5 year age group which is currently at 84.7 per cent. “The number one way to stop the spread of measles is to immunise,” he said.

The developments in American Samoa came after dozens of Hawaii health care workers returned to their homes across the state after voluntarily providing measles vaccinations to thousands of residents of the independent nation of Samoa, officials said.

A team of 76 health care workers and support staff went to Samoa for a two-day medical mission to ensure residents in the independent nation of Samoa were immunised from the highly contagious virus, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

“You have scores of people dying, and the society is paralysed,” said Honolulu surgeon Paulus Tsai. “Basically life has come to a standstill for the island.”