American Samoa declares measles outbreak, closes schools

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — The government of American Samoa declared the U.S. territory has an outbreak of measles, a move that will lead to the closure of public schools starting today and a ban on gatherings in parks.

In its announcement Friday of the outbreak, the government says the territory has nine cases. Five of those infected had been traveling outside the territory.

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As for the other four people who tested positive, “we’re suspecting that is local transmission — meaning that it’s most likely that some of these travelers did transmit the measles virus to them, causing them to be sick,” said Health Department Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa.

Tufa said during a television broadcast that samples from those infected were sent to Hawaii for testing and the results came back Thursday, resulting in the move to let the public know that “we are currently in the state of emergency” and a “measles outbreak.”

In the neighboring independent nation of Samoa, more than 60 people have died, mostly children, from measles and more than 4,000 have been infected since the outbreak started in mid-October, health officials said.

American Samoa will get a measles vaccine shipment today from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, Tufa said.

Data presented by health officials early last week shows a 99.7% vaccination rate for mumps, measles and rubella in the territory, officials said.

But Tufa said more needs to be done to up the rate for the 1-5 year age group, which is currently at 84.7%.

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“The No. 1 way to stop the spread of measles is to immunize,” he said.

The developments in American Samoa came after dozens of Hawaii health care workers returned home after voluntarily providing measles vaccinations to thousands of residents of the independent nation of Samoa, officials said.

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