News World As Samoa struggles, new data reveals other populations most under threat from measles
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As Samoa struggles, new data reveals other populations most under threat from measles

The measles rash is only the start, as the disease can impact the immune system for years to come. Photo: AAP
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Measles is killing 390 people every day around the world, and there are fears that toll will rise significantly this year as the disease forces a Pacific island nation into lockdown.

A state of emergency has been declared in Samoa, where communities are in the grips of a deadly outbreak – the threat of spread so extreme that locals are being shut indoors and banned from leaving home.

It comes as a report released on Friday revealed the extent measles is affecting populations across the globe, with world health authorities naming countries most under threat.

This month Samoa is the centre of the attention of authorities who are daily rushing thousands of doses of vaccines to homes in a bid to contain the spread.

So far in Samoa, more than 60 people have died from the disease – though authorities warn that number is almost certain to keep rising.

Of those dead, 52 are children under four.

More than 4000 Samoans are infected, meaning more than one in every 50 locals has contracted the virus since the epidemic was declared in October.

In an effort to stop the highly contagious disease from spreading, Samoans have been ordered to stay inside from dawn until dusk.

Those who haven’t been immunised are being urged to alert roving vaccination teams by hanging red flags on their front doors.

The race is on to reach them before the disease spreads further.

Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has ramped up quarantine measures further by ordering the closure of all non-essential government services.

Ferries travelling between the islands have stopped running, and people are being told to keep their cars off the roads.

“Let us work together to encourage and convince those who do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer to the epidemic,” Mr Malielegaoi said.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi announced the shutdown. Photo: ABC/Samoan Observer

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is spread by sneezing, coughing, kissing, sharing drinks or holding hands.

Early symptoms include fever, fatigue, coughing, runny nose and inflamed eyes.

Over time, these symptoms get much worse.

The sufferer might also find small white spots on in the inside of their cheeks, followed by a blotchy, dark red rash starting at their hairline.

Within two days, the rash will have spread over the entire body.

The good news is that measles, though deadly in extreme cases, is easily preventable through vaccination.

Over the past 18 years, the vaccination alone is estimated to have saved more than 23 million lives.

About 58,000 people in Samoa have been vaccinated since November 20.

UNICEF’s Pacific islands chief Sheldon Yett told AFP it was “very, very quiet” out in the streets.

“I can just hear a few barking dogs,” Mr Yett said.

“The streets are empty. There are no cars.”

The lockdown in Samoa comes as a new report from the World Health Organisation and the United States Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed measles deaths surged globally to 142,300 last year.

Most of the dead were children under five years old.

African countries were the worst hit, with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Madagascar and Somalia suffering the biggest outbreaks.

Together with Ukraine, these five countries accounted for almost half of all measles cases worldwide.

As of November this year, about 250,000 cases have already been reported to the DRC’s health authorities.

The complex measles infection cycle. Illustration: American Society for Microbiology

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance chief executive Dr Seth Berkley said the worldwide spread of measles was a “tragedy”.

“It is a tragedy that the world is seeing a rapid increase in cases and deaths from a disease that is easily preventable with a vaccine,” Dr Berkley said.

“While hesitancy and complacency are challenges to overcome, the largest measles outbreaks have hit countries with weak routine immunisation and health systems.”

Most of the countries hardest hit were among the world’s poorest, however, wealthier countries like the United States have also been battling outbreaks.

This year, the US reported its highest number of cases in 25 years.

From January 1 to November 7 this year, 1261 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 31 US states – the nation’s highest number of cases in 25 years.

Last year, Albania, Czech Republic, Greece and the United Kingdom all lost their measles elimination status following prolonged outbreaks.

This happens if measles re-enters a country after it has been declared eliminated, and if transmission is sustained continuously in the country for more than a year.

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