September 07, 2017
2 min read

San Diego officials declare hepatitis A outbreak a local health emergency

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Officials in San Diego are increasing their efforts to mitigate an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak that was recently declared a local health emergency.

Nearly 400 illnesses and 15 deaths were linked to the outbreak as of Sept. 5, according to San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency. Seventy percent of the cases required hospitalization.

The outbreak is being spread through person-to-person transmission, largely affecting people who are homeless or report illicit drug use or both. The California Department of Public Health recently reported that it is the state’s largest hepatitis A outbreak in 2 decades.

“Because of the [health emergency] declaration, the San Diego region could receive state and federal funding to address the hepatitis A outbreak,” a spokesman for the City of San Diego told Infectious Disease News. “Additional funding could go to a variety of programs that could curb the spread of the virus.”

Health officials are taking actions to reduce transmission by providing free vaccinations, distributing educational materials and installing hand-washing stations throughout the city, according to a press release. Forty new hand-washing stations were installed on Friday and Saturday in downtown San Diego and surrounding neighborhoods, the city spokesman said. Since June, County officials have been assisting the local police department’s Homeless Outbreak, Psychiatric Emergency Response and Quality of Life teams by offering free hepatitis A vaccinations to homeless people. The vaccines are also being offered to uninsured or under-insured people at every public health center in the area. On Sept. 19, the Central Library will begin hosting free vaccination clinics every Tuesday.

“The City continues to stand ready to support the County’s Health and Human Services Agency in its plans to provide vaccinations, sanitation and education to San Diegans as we battle this outbreak,” San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said in the release. “We must continue to work collaboratively to stop this crisis and save lives.”

As of Aug. 31, 18,929 people have been vaccinated in direct response to the outbreak, according to Wilma Wooten, MD, MPH, San Diego’s public health officer. Among those vaccinated, 7,145 were at high risk for infection. In addition, more than 1,400 hygiene kits were distributed to at-risk populations.

In response to the outbreak, Wooten issued vaccination recommendations for behavioral and homeless service providers and people who work in public safety, sanitation and homeless shelters. She recently expanded these vaccination recommendations to include health care workers and people who handle food, according to a San Diego County press release.

“This is a proactive recommendation because the ongoing outbreak means that the risk to the general public is higher than normal.” Wooten said in the release. “A person who becomes infected with hepatitis A may spread the disease to others before experiencing symptoms. In an occupation such as handling food, workers may expose more members of the public than workers in other occupations.” – by Stephanie Viguers

Disclosure: Wooten reports no relevant financial disclosures. Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm Faulconer’s relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.