20 Jun 2023

American Samoa health authorities hoping school break will curb RSV spread

12:32 pm on 20 June 2023
The children's ward at Gisborne Hospital is full, with an increase in all respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Photo: Unsplash

Health authorities in American Samoa are hoping the upcoming school break will help curb the spread of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) which has caused a spike in hospital admissions this month.

Daycare centres in the territory have been closed since Wednesday last week as a precautionary measure against the common but highly contagious virus which can cause lung and respiratory tract infections.

Compared to last year RSV numbers are actually down in American Samoa but a Department of Health epidiemiologist, Scott Anesi, said the severity of cases was worse than in the past.

Dr Anesi said the issue was the high rate of hospital admissions.

He said this is despite the territory reporting about 60 to 70 percent of the amount of RSV cases expected at this time of year.

"We were expecting the cases to be maybe up in the hundreds, we're at about 90 so far, but what's concerning is just the admissions and those that are requiring the therapies in the hospital."

Dr Anesi said just under half of cases seen at the local hospital were admitted and had to have medication.

He said most were under the age of two.

LBJ hospital, American Samoa

LBJ hospital, American Samoa Photo: RNZI

Some of the patients admitted to hospital with the virus developed pneumonia and needed the help of a continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP) machine for their breathing.

The increase in RSV cases among children had become noticeable since the beginning of June.

The acting chief executive of LBJ Hospitla, Dr Akapusi Ledua, said while in the past RSV was a mild flu-like illness which would disappear in a few days, it now seems to linger and in the most severe cases lead to pneumonia.

Daycare centres in American Samoa were closed from Wednesday last week to try curb the spread of the virus.

Scott Anesi said the territory was trying to "interrupt transmission", and the Department of Health was also doing mass media campaigns.

"We're in preparation mode, we're delivering our messaging for RSV and flu, and we're doing all the community advisories as well as programmes that we normally do," he said.

"But in addition to that we are also in full support of the hospital."

Schools recently held graduations and have broken for holidays, which Dr Anesi hoped would also help stop the transmission.

He said the recommendation was for daycares to remain closed for two weeks.

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