• The outbreak is affecting kids up to 13 years old
  • Some of them are not yet eligible to get the measles vaccine
  • Schools are closed until mid-May

A measles outbreak in American Samoa is affecting children, prompting authorities to close schools. The government has declared it a public health emergency.

There has so far been one laboratory-confirmed case and 31 more "suspected/probable" cases of measles, according to the declaration by the Office of the Governor and the Department of Health (DOH).

The outbreak is hitting kids particularly hard, with all the cases being in children up to 13 years old, Dr. Scott Anesi, the department's lead epidemiologist, said in a press briefing. Some of the suspected cases have even been in kids under 6 months old — an age at which a child is not yet eligible to get the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

"The measles virus is known to result in dangerously high fevers, disability and serious complications, especially in young children, including pneumonia and encephalitis, potentially leading to death," the declaration noted. "Current vaccination rates in American Samoa are not sufficient to prevent the spread of the measles virus without further action."

As such, all private and public schools in American Samoa, including daycare facilities, are being shut down for three weeks until May 12. All afterschool gatherings have been suspended, while children are being advised to stay at home while the health and education authorities are working to get the kids vaccinated.

Those who will test positive for measles are also being advised to isolate for up to 21 days, whether at the person's home or at a designated quarantine facility.

"The priority of the Department of Education is safety and although this may cause any inconvenience, we will continue to work collaboratively with the DOH to keep parents and guardians informed accordingly," the Department of Education noted in its announcement of the suspension of classes. "Thank you for your patience."

Measles is said to be one of the "most contagious diseases" in the world. It is so contagious that the virus can actually remain active in the air or on an infected surface for up to two hours.

The measles vaccine is "safe, effective and inexpensive," according to the World Health Organization. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are 97% effective at preventing measles, while one dose is still 93% effective at preventing it.

The vaccine prevented 23.2 million deaths worldwide from 2000 to 2018, making it "one of the best buys in public health." However, outbreaks can still happen when vaccinations lag.

Measles in California
In this photo, a measles poster is seen at Venice Family Clinic in Los Angeles, Feb. 5, 2015. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson