18 Oct 2019

Samoa Govt expects measles epidemic to escalate

10:28 am on 18 October 2019

Following the declaration of a measles epidemic in Samoa, the health ministry says emergency procedures are underway as the government anticipates cases will escalate.

A Samoan measles poster.

A Samoan measles poster. Photo: Samoa Ministry of Health

Health staff were being redirected, with plans for an isolation unit to quarantine measles patients and a push for the public to get their MMR vaccinations, said the ministry's Deputy Director General of Public Health, Robert Thomsen.

He said if the New Zealand measles outbreak was not brought under control soon the epidemic would only worsen for Samoa.

The measles vaccine was still a delicate topic in Samoa after two infants, who received the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, died last year due to human error.

"That topic is still sensitive, and so we're also taking precautions for the public not to panic, and assuring the public that the vaccine is safe.

"Because up to now, there's still people that are still sensitive to that...issue. But we're hoping that they will come in and get their children vaccinated."

It had only been five months since the suspended MMR immunisation programme restarted in Samoa and current coverage was estimated at less than 30 percent of the population, with two shots needed for full measles protection, Dr Thomsen said.

Melbourne laboratory test results confirmed seven cases of measles in Samoa from 38 samples sent.

Yesterday, Samoa's Health Ministry said the tragic death of an infant on Sunday was "highly suspected" to be due to measles, based on clinical assessment and evaluation.

The 14-month-old child was admitted on 8 October with a history of febrile convulsions, cough and skin rash typical of measles associated with severe dehydration.

Verification of immunisation status for this child revealed that he had not been vaccinated against measles.

Laboratory results of a direct cause of the boy's death from measles are still pending.

Dr Thomsen said the last measles epidemic in Samoa was in 1985 and in 2004 there were a few cases of rubella.