Samoa has gone into lock down for two days with all the government departments closed and families have been urged to stay at home. Those who are not vaccinated have been asked to tie a red cloth or flag at their gate to enable the mobile teams of vaccinators to identify their target population. All non-exempt vehicles have been kept off the roads.
Usually Apia is a bustling city full of buses, cars, trucks, taxis and motorcycles filling the streets and lots of locals walking along the roadsides. The sounds of the traffic are accompanied with the sounds of laughter and singing as Samoans are the happy people of the pacific, but today the streets were empty.
One can only imagine how strange the eerily silence must feel coupled with the huge amount of sorrow and concern that they have been dealing with over the past weeks with this measles epidemic. This lock down and door to door vaccination programme is an effort to try and curb the epidemic which has affected 4000 and has killed 62, most of which are young children.
Such devastation from an infectious disease in 2019 is frightening. The measles outbreak hit New Zealand first with Auckland having had 1711 cases of measles confirmed this year as well.
When it first started in Auckland people were asking how does this happen and now with the terrible situation in Samoa is it beyond believe, with something so contagious it can affect so many so quickly if they are not immunised.
Our hearts and thoughts go out to all the people that have been affected especially those who have lost loved ones.
Two New Zealand doctors have developed a chat bot called Mitara whereby they are answering the questions submitted via the Facebook page on Messenger and providing clinically proven information. This is an innovative way of getting factual information to those that need it especially as there are a lot of untruths or misunderstandings around this disease. Check this out on Stop Measles NZ.
New Zealand’s standard immunisation schedule usually sees children immunised with the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella (German Measles)) vaccine at both 15 months and 4 years of age, however with the outbreak in Auckland, children there are now offered the initial vaccine at 12 months. Additional vaccines are being offered to those under 50; New Zealanders over the age of 50 are considered immune as the disease was very common back then.
So why is there an epidemic?
The use of mass vaccinations, resulting in a large percentage of the population becoming immune leads to herd immunity, which helps to prevent the spread of many infectious deceases however when the percentage of people vaccinated drops this can allow preventable diseases to return.
For example, if no one is immunised then contagious diseases spread through the population, when some are immunised then contagious diseases will spread though some of the population however when most of the population get immunised the spread of a contagious disease is contained.
What is the measles?
Measles is a highly infectious airborne virus, if you catch the measles you can affect others from five days before and after the rash appears. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, sore watery pink eyes, a blotchy rash appears often on the face behind the ears then moves down the body and can last up to a week.
If you or your family think you have measles contact your general practice by phone to advise them (phoning ahead can help to reduce the risk infection by ensuring steps are taken to avoid spreading the infection ) or in New Zealand call Healthlink 0800 611 116.
Wishing Samoa and our other pacific neighbours all the best in stopping the epidemic as soon as possible. Take Care.