Measles strikes American Samoa

American Samoa will conduct a mass vaccination campaign across its territory after nine cases of measles infections were confirmed within its borders, according to health authorities. 

The head of the American territory’s Department of Health (D.O.H.), Motusa Tuileama Nua, told the Samoa Observer they had received laboratory confirmation of cases, which prompted the Government to act.  

“There are nine confirmed cases, six adults and three children and four were travel-related cases with four locally contracted,” he said. 

The Government is now discouraging large public gatherings, while all schools, public and private, will be closed until further notice.  

The outbreak was first activated last month when American Samoa first encountered the two cases of travelers from Samoa.

The D.O.H.'s Aifili Dr. John Tufa told the Samoa Observer earlier that American Samoa has a 90 per cent immunisation coverage and “that gives us good protection.”

According to local media, the announcement was made on Saturday (Samoa Time) by Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga who chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting to formulate the Government’s response.

Another emergency declaration is now expected to be issued with certain orders for the protection of the territory’s health and welfare during the measles outbreak.

He has also directed the country’s Treasurer, Ueligitone Tonumaipe’a, to seek $2 million from any available funding sources to set up an account for measles response efforts.

A 10-month old baby, one of the four locally transmitted measles cases , has recovered and is doing well.

A report by the hospital during the Cabinet meeting indicated the others are responding well to courses of in-patient treatment. 

American Samoa’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga, said the baby was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the Lyndon B. Johnson hospital in critical condition. Initially, doctors were uncertain if the child was going to pull through.

“He was on an [intravenous drip]. But thankfully the baby survived, was eventually moved into the Pediatric Ward and kept in isolation until he was charged from the hospital,” the doctor said. 

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The other four cases have also recovered, according to Dr. Saipale Fuimaono head of the Tafuna Community Health Center.  

“We are thankful to God that they are doing well and the rash on their bodies have disappeared,” he said. 

Dr Saleapaga said their goal is to prevent any further infections and contain the  spread of the disease. 

“If we can convince parents of what they need to do, we’re good,” he said, referring to reaching as-yet unvaccinated children to give them their measles shots.

“I believe there are many children out there who haven’t got their MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) shots, “he said.

The D.O.H. campaign continues to dispatch teams out to the family homes to keep any suspected measles cases isolated. 

A public notice posted by Department of Health’s Hospital Infection Preventionist and Registered Nurse, Sharmain Mageo, urged the public to avoid going to the hospital.

“But, if you must we would appreciate it if you could call ahead and let our [Emergency Room] staff know your signs and symptoms and we can direct you quickly to be seen,” she said. 

“The aim of our frontline staff at the hospital is to have you seen quickly, and if well enough sent home on medication and then get your info immediately to D.O.H. for [them to conduct] community follow up. 

“Measles is highly contagious and can spread rapidly as seen in Apia. 

“If you are sent home and told to self-isolate yourself or measles suspect, please do follow these instructions. This is to prevent further spread to your family and community.” 

Ms. Mageo urged the public not take our instructions or governmental advice lightly.

“We have all read and seen the devastation this disease is causing in our sister island of Samoa. WE DO NOT WANT THAT,” she wrote. 

She stated that with any virus, good personal hygiene is important to help prevent the spread of disease, including washing hands regularly, disposing of used tissues, and not sharing eating utensils or drinks. 

“The best prevention, however, is vaccination,” she said. 

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