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American Samoa reports measles public health emergency

American Samoa initiated a public health emergency after an outbreak of 32 cases of measles, including a confirmed case of an 8-year-old and a suspected case of a 2-month-old, according to ABC News

Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga issued the emergency declaration on Monday that is expected to last until May 24. All schools and daycare facilities are closed for all in-person activities and will remain so until May 12, sending 12,000 students home.

Dr. Scott Anesi, a lead epidemiologist for the Department of Health (DOH), disclosed in a press conference that among the suspected 32 cases, children under 6 months are being hospitalized because they’re ineligible to get vaccinated. 

Anesi suspects that the measles outbreak started in the Iliili village, which initially diagnosed six cases,  Samoa News. The DOH chart detailing the measles cases by village showed how widespread the virus is. 

“We are not able to definitively say whether this is where the link is, in terms of travel associations. The investigation is still ongoing,” Anesi explained in the briefing. “There is a team that’s associated with that. But the primary concern here from the medical team is to go out and actively seek cases that are active and symptomatic.” 

The declaration requires anyone who tests positive for measles to isolate for 21 days. The same time frame also applies to those exposed to measles.  

Another measles outbreak occurred back in 2019 after measles, mumps, and rabies (MMR) vaccination rates plummeted from 74 percent to 34 percent in 2017 to 2018, WHO and UNICEF found. The low coverage stemmed from a fatal medical incident where two Samoan infants died due to a vaccination error, which deterred many from keeping up-to-date immunizations, ABC News noted. 

However, measles vaccination coverage has increased by approximately 95 percent as of 2020, WHO surveyed.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease with symptoms ranging from fevers to conjunctivitis, the CDC reports. A rash typically begins to form within 14 days after a person is exposed and remains contagious for about 4 days before and 4 days after the rash appears. 

The outbreak has led the ASDH to open vaccination sites, urging communities on their FaceBook page to bring children 6 months and older. The Department of Education is partnering with the DOH to “ensure all students are fully vaccinated accordingly” during this school closure period. 

“The main concern here is that those children that are one year old up to high school should be fully immunized as required by the DOE,” Anesi said in the ABC report.

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