Health emergency declared in American Samoa over measles concern

An archive photograph of measles screening at Pago Pago International Airport Photo: RNZ Pacific / Monica Miller

An archive photograph of measles screening at Pago Pago International Airport Photo: RNZ Pacific / Monica Miller

American Samoa has declared a public health emergency after one confirmed case of measles and 31 suspected cases.

It was declared by Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga on Monday night, local time, and will expire on May 24.

The Department of Health and the American Samoa Government are now authorised to utilise all necessary powers to contain and prevent the further spread of measles.

The emergency extends to the entire territory.

A positive case was confirmed on April 18, after the eight-year-old girl who was infected was seen at a community centre with symptoms on March 27.

A spokesperson for the American Samoan Government said the 31 suspected cases includes children under six months old who are hospitalised and ineligible for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

All schools, including the Community College, are closed for three weeks and schools will use online and distance learning.

The Director of Health is authorised to quarantine a person for up to 21 days without notice if that person has been exposed to measles.

American Samoa’s epidemiologist, Scott Anesi, said blood tests of the suspected cases were sent to Hawaii last night and should be returned within 72 hours.

Anesi told RNZ Pacific it was now “a waiting game”.

“The response will be guided based on the results that we get but until then we are still aggressively doing a mass vaccination campaign and we are still aggressive in our response.”

He said the focus was to get 100 percent vaccination coverage for children aged one and up and to get 95 percent vaccination coverage across the territory.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) first dosage has been lowered from one year to six months, as part of the response.

Travel alerts have been sent out to neighbouring countries and international partners, notifying them of the confirmed potential case and probable cases.

Anesi said he was not aware of any travel restrictions imposed by neighbouring countries and it was at their discretion to do so.

“As part of that travel advisory we are requesting that those that are thinking of entering the territory or have already made plans to enter the territory, be fully immunised before doing so,” he said.

Samoa’s new requirements for travellers

Travellers from American Samoa into Samoa have been issued with new requirements.

The Samoa Ministry of Health issued a special advisory, which requires that all travellers from American Samoa are vaccinated with a measles containing vaccine before entering Samoa.

A legitimate vaccine certificate or note is required before boarding and a hard copy must be presented at both check-in and upon arrival into Samoa for sighting.

Upon arrival all passengers will be required to wear face masks at all times, and are strongly encouraged to take precautionary and preventive measures within the first seven days upon arrival.