Measles Outbreak in American Samoa Causes School Closures


An outbreak of the highly infectious measles virus has led American Samoa to declare a public health emergency.

An outbreak of the highly infectious measles virus has led American Samoa to declare a public health emergency.

The United States territory American Samoa has declared a public health emergency due to a measles outbreak.

American Samoa governor Lemanu Palepoi Sialegā Mauga signed the emergency declaration on Monday, April 24, and it will remain in effect for 30 days.

The American Samoa Department of Health (ASDH) reported 1 laboratory-confirmed case of measles and 31 probable infections. These suspected infections led American Samoa to declare the public health emergency, closing all schools until at least May 12.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, caused by a paramyxovirus, that typically spreads through direct contact and the air.

Despite the availability of an approved and cost-effective vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are globally over 140000 measles deaths a year. Most deaths occur in children under the age of 5. In American Samoa, some of the probable measles cases include hospitalized infants under 6 months of age, who are ineligible to receive the measles vaccine.

The ASDH ordered individuals who test positive to isolate for 21 days, and added that potentially exposed persons may also be asked to quarantine for 21 days.

American Samoa is on high alert for measles, after a 2019 outbreak caused 12 cases in 43 days. Measles is so contagious that the virus can live for up to 2 hours in an airspace. If 1 person contracts measles, upwards of 90% of their close contacts will also become infected.

Declining vaccination rates mean the United States is not exempt to measles outbreaks either. Within the last year, Ohio experienced 85 measles cases and Minnesota reported 22.

Measles virus lives in the mucus of an infected person, and spreads through coughing or sneezing. Infected persons can spread measles 4 days before and 4 days after they display the indicative measles rash. Unlike other viruses, animals are not able to contract or spread measles.

To stop measles from spreading further, ASDH is offering the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine at several health clinic, community centers, and churches, available to all residents 6 months and older.

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