Mon, Dec 09, 2019 - Page 5 News List

American Samoa closes schools, bans gatherings amid measles outbreak

AP, PAGO PAGO

The American Samoa government on Friday declared an outbreak of measles, a move that will lead to the closure of public schools starting today and a ban on gatherings in parks.

The US territory said in a statement that it has nine cases of the disease, adding that five of those infected had been traveling 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 travelers did transmit the measles virus to them, causing them to be sick,” American Samoa Department of Health epidemiologist Aifili John Tufa said.

Tufa said in a TV broadcast that samples from infected people were sent to Hawaii for testing and the results came back on 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 neighboring independent nation of Samoa, more than 60 people have died, mostly children, from the measles, and more than 4,000 were infected since an outbreak started in the middle of October, health officials said.

American Samoa would get a measles vaccine shipment from the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) today, Tufa said.

Data presented last week by health officials at a Cabinet meeting showed a 99.7 percent vaccination rate for mumps, measles and rubella in the territory, officials said.

However, Tufa said that more needs to be done to increase the rate for the one-to-five age group, which is at 84.7 percent.

“The number one way to stop the spread of measles is to immunize,” he said.

The developments in American Samoa came after dozens of Hawaii healthcare workers returned to their homes across the state after voluntarily providing measles vaccinations to thousands of Samoans, officials said.

A team of 76 healthcare workers and support staff went to Samoa for a two-day medical mission to ensure people were immunized for the highly contagious virus, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has reported.

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

Samoa declared a state of emergency, and complete shutdown of government and business operations while vaccination teams searched for residents susceptible to the disease, health officials said.

About 34,000 people were immunized over two days, they said.

“Of all the efforts to save children around the world, immunization has the most dramatic impact. Everybody came together with their aloha to unite and support Samoa and attack this disease head-on in a way that will make a permanent difference in the lives of the people,” Straub Medical Center family physician Dale Glenn said.

The mission was coordinated by medical doctor and Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, who worked with Samoan leaders, the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials said.

More than 500 people and groups responded ready to volunteer about 4,200km southwest of Hawaii, officials said.

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