Samoa measles deaths rise to 70; DRC outbreak ramps up

Hospitalized Asian girl
Hospitalized Asian girl

studio9 / iStock

In the latest measles developments, Samoa's outbreak has grown to nearly 4,700 cases, 70 of them fatal, an event that is now linked to an outbreak in neighboring American Samoa.

Meanwhile, a massive outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on the rise again, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its monthly update reported 15 more measles cases in the United States.

Samoa launches appeal after 70 die

Samoa's health ministry said today that the outbreak total has grown to 4,693 cases, 112 of them reported over the past 24 hours. Currently, 159 measles patients are hospitalized, including 16 who are critically ill and 2 pregnant women.

So far, 70 measles deaths have been reported, 2 of them in the last 24 hours. The government said the lowest vaccine coverage rate and highest death rate is in children younger than 5 years old.

Vaccination efforts continue, and, as of yesterday, about 90% of all eligible people have been immunized, according to an update posted on the ministry's Facebook page.

The government also reminded the public about the state of emergency, which says that children up to age 19 be barred from public gathering and from medical facilities, unless they need medical attention or assistance. Officials said there have been numerous reports of children seen at public gatherings.

On Dec 6, the country launched a response and recovery appeal, which seeks $10.7 million to help curb the outbreak. Details of the appeal are included in a 26-page document that details outbreak response plans. And on Dec 5 and 6, the government launched a mass vaccination campaign made up of 128 teams, shuttering most government services and most private-sector activities. The government asked residents to stay home and wait for mobile vaccination teams.

Meanwhile, other countries are sending Samoa more medical staff to help with the outbreak. The United Kingdom's government said today that a second emergency team, which includes 14 British medics, will be deployed over Christmas and will work 12-hour shifts to treat critically ill children at the country's national hospital in Apia. The group will replace the current 14-member team.

Also, a medical team from Israel is en route to Samoa to help contain the outbreak, Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) reported today. The group, which was sent at the request of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, includes six nurses, two pediatricians, and a physical therapist.

Outbreak spreads to American Samoa

In related developments, neighboring American Samoa, which declared a public health emergency on Nov 13, is now reporting nine cases, include three that were contracted locally. Yesterday the government, in continuing the emergency for another 30 days, announced the temporary closure of all public and private schools, early childhood centers, kindergartens, and daycares.

The government also cancelled all public gatherings and ordered village councils to enforce curfews and discourage public gatherings. It ordered parents with children ages 6 months and older who have not been vaccinated to report to health department clinics for vaccination.

DRC outbreak picks up steam again

After a short decline in cases, a massive outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is expanding, with 53 new health zones reporting cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said today in its weekly outbreaks and health emergencies report.

Since its last update on Nov 11, 35,742 more suspected cases, 707 of them fatal, have been reported. The hardest-hit provinces in the most recent reporting week were Mai-Ndombe, Equateur, Kwilu, and South Kivu, which, combined, recorded 56% of the reported cases.

Since Jan 1 and through Dec 2, the DRC has recorded 269,079 suspected measles cases, which includes 5,430 deaths—more than double the number of fatalities in the country's ongoing Ebola outbreak.

Vaccination campaigns in 165 of the DRC's 519 health zones have reached about 5.3 million children, and a drop in weekly case numbers has been seen in vaccinated areas.

The WHO said the DRC's measles outbreak is the world's largest and most severe, fueled by suboptimal vaccine coverage, high levels of malnutrition, and disease surveillance gaps.

US total reaches 1,276

In its monthly update, the CDC on Dec 6 said 15 more cases were reported since its last update on Nov 12, putting the nation's total since the first of the year at 1,276. No new states are reporting cases, keeping the number of affected states at 21. Currently, there are no active outbreaks, which are defined as 3 or more linked cases.

The number of new cases is slightly higher than the increase of 11 the CDC reported in November, but it is down dramatically from the 300 monthly cases reported in March and April.

The United States this year has experienced the most measles cases for any year since 1992, led by large outbreaks in and around New York City, part of events that threatened the nation's measles elimination status. Outbreaks in the United States were sparked by imported cases linked to outbreaks in other countries.

See also:

Dec 9 Samoa health ministry Facebook page

Dec 6 Samoa measles response and recovery appeal

Dec 9 UK government statement

Dec 9 JNS story

Dec 8 American Samoa government statement

Dec 9 WHO African regional office weekly report

Dec 6 CDC measles update

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