MOH says three deaths suspected to be measles-related

By Sapeer Mayron 30 October 2019, 6:03PM

The Ministry of Health says three deaths in Samoa are now all suspected to be measles-related with 15 cases now confirmed and suspected cases shooting up to 314. 

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, the Ministry stated that as of October 27 they have recorded 314 suspected measles cases with 15 confirmed cases. There are 146 laboratory results pending.

Three deaths so far of a 14-month-old, an 8-month-old and a 37-year-old are all suspected to be measles-related fatalities, which are currently awaiting laboratory testing. Out of the 314 suspected cases, most of them are children under the age of 4. 

The Ministry further stated that 79 per cent (249) of the suspected cases reside on Upolu and 18 per cent (57) in Savai'i. Ninety-one or 29 per cent of the 314 suspected cases have been admitted to hospital while 96 per cent are admitted at the TTMH with one transferred. A majority of the admissions are less than 5-years-old with three pregnant mothers (two at TTM Hospital and one at MTII Hospital in Savai'i).

The public has been encouraged to get their measles vaccinations – if they have not been vaccinated against measles or have not previously contracted measles. 

The latest statistics on the measles epidemic comes on the back of the Government's decision to close preschools and child day care centres across Samoa until further notice while the nation grapples with the measles epidemic.

With more than 300 suspected cases of measles to date, Samoa has been dealing with a rapidly growing epidemic for two months now.

Closing preschools and day care centre is an effort to protect the most vulnerable age group, after the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was suspended for eight months. 

The Ministry of Health (M.O.H) assistant chief executive officer Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen said he cannot predict how successful the measure will be, but that he hopes people will take the necessary precautions to avoid crowded places and to stay home if they feel ill.

“Unless people adhere to that, there is nothing we can do.

“We don’t want to impinge on their human rights, otherwise you people will write about it as well.”

Tagaloa said M.O.H is working with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) to try and get the word out to the early childhood programmes. 

Closing primary and secondary schools is under consideration but with exams approaching this would not be a simple task.

According to the public notice, the Ministry has seen an increase in preschool aged children being brought to hospital with suspected measles as well as those being admitted.

“This precaution is vital as we work together as a community to protect our population against measles as well as minimise the risks of the spread of this disease especially among infants and children,” the notice states. 

Since September, more than 200 suspected cases have been treated by the Ministry of Health which officially declared an epidemic earlier this month.

Just seven cases were confirmed by blood test to have had measles, and all patients have been treated and discharged, the Ministry said. 

Majority of the people infected with the highly contagious disease are children under ten.

Samoa was exposed to measles by a traveller from Auckland who arrived on island while measles was incubating in their system with no visible symptoms.

Since then, a doctor and two nurses were infected, and a one year old baby boy being treated in the Paediatric Isolation Unit for highly suspected cases of measles died.

M.O.H has had vaccination clinics running around the country this month to contend with the low rate of immunisation. Just 31 per cent of children have had their first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine according to World Health Organisation and United Nations Children’s Fund data. 

The Pacific Representative for U.N.I.C.E.F. Sheldon Yett said everyone must do what they can to prevent further spread of the disease, Radio New Zealand reports.

“Diseases don't know borders. I think all governments have an obligation to put their resources into play here and to make sure populations do what is necessary.

“Governments have an obligation to be transparent and to be open, and to make sure that they keep the vaccinations at the very top of the public health agenda.”

Measles reached Tonga this week, with 68 cases recorded on the island, some of which have been confirmed by laboratory tests. 

Majority of the cases came from a school rugby team that went to New Zealand last month, Public Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Reynold Ofanoa told Radio New Zealand.

Measles is highly infectious and people suspected to have caught it should quarantine themselves and seek immediate treatment.

Symptoms of the illness include fever, cough, runny nose, sore and watery 'pink eyes' and a rash. 

Here are excerpts of the Ministry of Health statement: 

Ministry of Health – Measles Epidemic Update 4

Further to the Ministry of Health Measles Epidemic Update released on the 24 October 2019:

Following is an update of the figures since the Ministry of Health report dated the 24 October:

 As of 27 th October 2019 there have been 314 suspected measles cases with 15 confirmed cases. There are 146 laboratory results pending.

 To date, there has been three related mortality; a 14 month-old; a 8 month old and a 37 year old, all are suspected to be measles related, currently awaiting laboratory test.

 Of the 314 cases, mostly are children less than 4 years of age.

 79% (249) of suspected cases reside in Upolu and 18% (57) in Savaii.

 29% (91) of the 314 suspected cases have been admitted to hospital, 96% were admitted at TTMH with one transferred from Savaii, 4% (4); majority of admissions are less than 5 years old with 3 pregnant mothers (2 at TTM Hospital and 1 at MTII Hospital, Savaii)The Ministry of Health continues to encourage the public to get their measles vaccinations if they have not been vaccinated against measles or have not previously contracted measles.

 The Ministry will advise of the laboratory results are received for the suspected measles related death reported earlier.

The measles vaccination is available at all Health Facilities including:

 The Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital (TTMH) on Upolu. The Immunization clinic is located at the TTMH Emergency Department.

 The Malietoa Tanumafili 11 Hospital (MT11H) on Savaii. The Immunization clinic is located at the MT2H emergency department.

The story was previously published under the headline "Preschools closed until further notice to avoid further measles spread". It has been updated to incorporate latest statistics on the number of infections and fatalities that are suspected to be measles-related. This is a developing story. 


By Sapeer Mayron 30 October 2019, 6:03PM

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