Outbreak Of Mumps In Marshall Islands Continues To Spread

Health officials says number could be as high as 3,000

By Giff JohnsonMAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, June 19, 2017)

A mumps outbreak that started in March in Majuro could be slowing based on official data from the Ministry of Health — but health officials warn the true number of cases could be as high as 3,000 even though the confirmed and probable number is listed as 1,033 as of late last week.

And with thousands of islanders from the outer islands, Ebeye and the United States in Majuro for summer church conferences, the opportunity for further spread is increased.

It is the biggest outbreak of mumps in the Marshall Islands in decades and started up following a large outbreak late last year in the American state of Arkansas in an area where about 15,000 Marshall Islanders live. In recent weeks, Hawaii state health authorities are reporting an uptick in mumps cases.

The Ministry of Health has stepped up its health outreach with the churches in Majuro — and is launching an immunization push on several outer islands following delivery of thousands of vaccines to school children in recent weeks.

Last week’s mumps report from the Ministry of Health shows that the number of confirmed and suspected cases dipped below 40 for the past two weeks, for the first time since the end of March when the numbers started climbing. While still high it is a decline since the number in one week peaked at over 140 cases in late April. But health officials suspect the true number of cases is under-reported and there could be two or three times the reported number of cases of mumps.

The ministry’s June 10 outbreak report said 1,033 probable and confirmed cases have been reported in the country, with 844 in Majuro and 193 in Ebeye. More cases are suspected on several outer atolls. “Case reports have dropped at Ministry of Health most likely because the message to the public was to stay home unless complications were noted,” said the report. “Thus the ‘curve’ decrease may be due to under-reporting rather than a true decrease in cases.” The ministry said Ebeye continues to see at least 23 cases a week.

Public Health responded to the outbreak by launching a crash MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine program in local schools that started on April 17 and is continuing. The vaccine program has been conducted in Majuro and Ebeye, as well as some outer islands. A “mass immunization” is being launched for all islands with probable cases of mumps, including Arno, Mejit, Utrik, Ailinglaplap, Namu and Ailuk.

“All Majuro schools exceed the ‘attack rate’ of five per 1,000 students recommended as a threshold for implementing a blanket outbreak dose of MMR vaccine,” said the ministry’s report.

Hawaii is currently experiencing an outbreak of mumps. The Hawaii State Department of Health confirmed seven additional cases last week among Oahu residents with the mumps, bringing the total number of cases this year to 96. The DOH said it expects to see more cases of mumps as the highly-contagious viral disease continues to circulate on Oahu.

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