Article by
Dani Reiter
Updated
November 15th, 2019

Samoan Islands Measles Outbreak Reports Multiple Fatalities

Measles outbreaks in Pacific Islands continue in various countries

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The Samoan Islands' ongoing measles outbreak has significantly accelerated over the past month.

Press release #4 issued on October 30, 2019, by the Samoan Ministry of Health (MOH), reported 314 suspected measles cases, with 15 confirmed cases. And, there are 146 laboratory test results pending.

However, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported on November 13, 2019, that Samoan Director General of Health Leausa Dr. Take Naseri said ‘there have been 7 related fatalities, and most were young children.’

Additionally, RNZ’s reporting indicates the number of suspected measles cases on Samoa had now reached 628, with 48 confirmations.

Samoa’s main islands, Savai'i and Upolu, have a combined population of 190,000 residents. Samoa is located south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean.

Separately, health officials in Samoa’s southeastern neighbor American Samoa, said ‘there are 2 children visiting from Samoa who are suspected of having measles. They are being kept in isolation at the LBJ Hospital.’

These children had not been vaccinated for the measles virus.

Saipale Fuimaono, M.D., from American Samoa, told KHJ News ‘to prevent any spread of what the children may have, the host family and the children are being closely monitored. There have not been any confirmed measles cases by American Samoa in 2019.’

Additionally, the Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa said: “We are doing everything to prevent a locally borne measles case.” He pointed out that American Samoa has a 90 percent immunization coverage and “that gives us good protection.”

The Samoan MOH continues to advise and encourages the public to get vaccinated against measles. Vaccination services are available at TTM Hospital Motootua and MTII Hospital Tuasivi. All hospital emergency plans have been activated with an isolation ward for those requiring admission.

The Samoan population is also reminded to refrain from large gatherings and crowded places, and isolation at home is recommended if you have any of the symptoms in the suspect measles case definition.

Furthermore, Samoan children should stay home from school if they are sick.

For further information on measles, please contact the nearest Health facility in Samoa, Dr. Robert Thomsen on 66503, or Tevaga, Dr. Ponifasio Ponifasio on 66500, or Dr. Sarah Brown on 66723 or your healthcare provider.

This is unfortunate news given the results of a recent study that confirmed ‘measles infections in children can eliminate the immune system’s memory to fight off other illnesses'. 

This means an immune system reduction can leave about 40 percent of children who recover from measles infection vulnerable to other pathogens that they might have been protected from, before their bout with measles.

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Recently, Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) was notified passengers with measles traveled on 2 flights from Samoa to Auckland on November 9th.

ARPHS Medical Officer Dr. Maria Poynter says people who may have exposed on these flights should be vigilant for symptoms of the highly infectious disease.

1st flight - The flight departed Apia, Samoa, on Air New Zealand flight NZ959 at 9.40 pm on Friday 8 November, landing at 12.45 am on Saturday 9 November.

2nd flight - The flight departed Apia, Samoa on Air New Zealand NZ959 at 9.40 pm on Sunday 10 November, landing at Auckland International Airport at 1.00 am on Monday 11 November.

New Zealand's measles outbreak has continued to expand.

As of November 13, 2019, there have been 2,052 confirmed cases of measles, with 1,645 of these cases are in the Auckland region.

And the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services Dr. Aalisha Sahukhan declared an outbreak with 3 measles confirmed for the Serua/Namosi Subdivision, and specifically the Wailali Settlement in Wainadoi. 

UPDATE:  NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced on November 15th further support for Samoa. Three thousand measles vaccines and a dozen New Zealand nurses are being sent to Samoa to assist in containing a "serious and growing outbreak" gripping the island nation.

Recent Oceania measles news

Measles is a highly contagious virus, measles is a disease that spreads from person to person by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Signs and symptoms of measles include rash, high fever, and a cough, runny nose, or red, watery eyes. 

Additionally, the WHO advises all travelers aged 6 months and older who cannot show proof of vaccination or immunity, to receive the MMR vaccine at least 2-weeks prior to traveling to areas where measles transmission has been documented. 

People can spread measles up to 4 days before and 4 days after they have a rash, says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has included Samoa in its June 2019 Travel Alert regarding the ongoing spreading of the measles virus.

Additionally, the CDC updated its vaccination suggestions when visiting Samoa on August 2, 2019, to include the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella, and the annual flu shot. The CDC also suggests Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, and Typhoid vaccinations for certain Samoa visitors.

Note:  The CDC says any vaccine can cause a side effect, which should be reported to a healthcare provider asap.

Pacific Island travel news published by Vax-Before-Travel