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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Aug. 1) - An
outbreak of measles has hit Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

Although health authorities are waiting for official laboratory
confirmation that the illness being seen is measles, medical doctors in Majuro
say they have no doubts.

At least 21 people with suspected cases of measles were being
treated by Majuro Hospital staff as of Wednesday this week, triggering fears of
a major outbreak of the disease in Majuro.

The first suspected measles case was seen late last week and
Ministry of Health officials responded immediately by immunizing hospital staff
and requiring their use of masks to prevent spread, and also by sending public
health teams to the homes of the people with suspected measles cases to
vaccinate everyone in the households, said assistant secretary for primary
health care Russell Edwards.

"We immunized our staff because they’re on the
frontline," he said.

The source of the infection is under investigation, but it was
from an off-island contact, according to Majuro Hospital administrator Sandy

Samples were sent to a Honolulu laboratory to confirm if the
illness is measles, he indicated. The results are expected this weekend. But
medical doctors say they are confident that what they are seeing is measles.

If it is measles, then the Ministry will mount a major
immunization campaign not only for children, but adults as well, Edwards said.
This will likely involve the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World
Health Organization. But, he said, the ministry doesn’t want to call in these
international organizations unless the diagnosis is confirmed.

In the meantime, Edwards is cautioning parents to make sure that
the vaccinations of their young children are up to date for measles prevention.

"We’re encouraging kids who haven’t completed their
vaccination (schedule) to come to the hospital to be immunized," he said.

The ministry has adequate supplies of measles vaccine for
children, he said, adding that if the measles diagnosis is confirmed, then they
will need to obtain a larger vaccine stock to use for the adult population.

Edwards said the ministry is not encouraging people who believe
they are sick with measles to come to the hospital for treatment because of the
potential for much wider transmission of the highly contagious illness.

"It’s so contagious that it’s better if people are
treated at home," he said.

August 1, 2003

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