Samoa's measles epidemic raises alarm in American Samoa

By Sapeer Mayron 23 October 2019, 7:00PM

The authorities in American Samoa will check all travellers from Samoa to the territory for signs of measles.

The compulsory checks will include passengers travelling by air plane and the ferry. 

On Monday, officials at the Pago Pago International Airport began screening passengers and crew on board flights from Samoa for symptoms of measles.  

They did the same on Thursday when the Lady Naomi arrived. 

Chief Compliance Officer for Quarantine,  Dr. Saipale Fuimaono, said the process will remain in place until Samoa advises them the epidemic is over.

The Ministry of Health formally announced Samoa was facing a measles epidemic on the 16th of October, after it confirmed from a pathology laboratory that seven people had been infected with the highly contagious disease.

But American Samoa did not wait for the announcement, and rather implemented measures to screen passengers two days earlier, following reports that 16 people were being quarantined in an isolation unit at the National Hospital in Moto’otua.

Mr. Fuimaono said the quarantine teams are being assisted by a nurse to check each passenger for symptoms.

“We are not trying to alarm anyone or cause any panic in the community, just trying to make people aware,” he said.

“We announced for those travelling from here, and returning, we let them know there is measles in Apia and to let them know to be careful and watch out.

“We don’t want a repeat of 1918.”

When the Lady Naomi returns to shore on Thursday (Friday in Samoa), passengers and crew will undergo the process again, and the captain is fully compliant, Mr. Fuimaono said . 

Just 62 per cent of children are vaccinated against measles, and 17.3 per cent only got their first of two doses. 

The World Health Organisation states safe vaccination levels are 95 per cent (Samoa stands at just 31 receiving their first dose and 13 receiving their second).

To date, no cases of measles have been caught at the border. But unfortunately, measles incubates in the body for at least two weeks before the tell-tale rash, fever, cough, red eyes or runny nose symptoms appear.

 Should they find any symptoms on board a flight or vessel, Mr. Fuimaono said there are isolation units established at both the port and airport to quarantine the infected person, but the Department of Health has suggested it will opt to send them back to Samoa for treatment.

Measles can spread rapidly, and health service workers are not immune. Two nurses and a doctor were among the first to come down with cases of what was highly suspected to be measles, though have since recovered.

“Just to be safe, we will have to send them back,” Mr. Fuimaono aid.

On-board, the quarantine team are instructed to not only check for symptoms but to interview passengers about their travels and ascertain possible contact with the disease, to attempt to counter that symptom-less incubation period.

Despite their best efforts, Mr. Fuimaono is not prepared to say his small nation of 55,641 is “100 per cent safe” from measles.

“But we are trying. We are alert, and trying to make sure we are 100 per cent safe,” he said.

“You never know, there might be someone who will enter whose case of measles is hard to see.”

He confirmed Samoa’s Ministry of Health has been speaking with senior management in the Department of Health to coordinate efforts against the disease. 


By Sapeer Mayron 23 October 2019, 7:00PM

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