Hepatitis A Outbreak: San Diego

09/25/17 By Jill Tilton

San DiegoEach year, approximately 30,000 to 50,000 cases of Hepatitis A occur in the United States. Since late 2016, San Diego has been attempting to combat an outbreak of this disease. Hepatitis A is spreading like wildfire, primarily affecting the homeless population and heavy drug users in the San Diego area. On September 1, the county declared the outbreak a public health emergency. According to the San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, as of Sept. 5, 2017, the outbreak has infected 398 people, caused 279 hospitalizations, and 15 deaths. “Once Hep A is transmitted in a community like this, its kind of hard to stop.”

Part of the problem is lack of affordable housing. Individuals are forced to live on the streets if they cannot afford a home, which explains San Diego’s rising population of homeless individuals. Nearly 27% (1,300 individuals) of San Diego’s population is currently homeless. Out of those unsheltered people, 77% said they became homeless in San Diego.

On September 11, 2017, contractors started spraying down San Diego areas with diluted household bleach solution. They began by spraying down hazardous items such as human waste or needles. Then, they would wait 10 minutes, remove the contaminated items, and then spray the area again with bleach. After that, contractors pressure-washed the area with water. This process is “set to be repeated every two weeks with weekly spot maintenance” until the outbreak subsides. San Diego County has also deployed health workers to vaccinate people in the surrounding community and run vaccination events. So far, about 19,000 vaccinations have been administered. Even more, dozens of hand washing stations have been installed with more on the way.

What should I know about Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. The disease compromises the liver and its functions. It is highly contagious and ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months and in some cases, can even cause death. Hepatitis A spreads when a person ingests fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts, from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person.

Anyone can contract Hepatitis A, but people who travel to countries where Hepatitis A is common, people who have sexual contact with someone who has Hepatitis A, men who have sexual encounters with other men, people who use recreational drugs (whether injected or not), people who have clotting-factor disorders (hemophilia), and household members or caregivers of a person infected with Hepatitis A are at an increased risk.

According to the CDC, the virus has an incubation period of 15-50 days and can go undetected for some time. Therefore, not everyone experiences symptoms, but if they happen to develop, they appear two to six weeks after infection. Symptoms include: fever, vomiting, grey or light colored stool, fatigue, abdominal pain, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea, dark urine, and jaundice. These symptoms are much more likely to appear in adults than children and may last for as long as two to six months.

In order to prevent contracting Hepatitis A, vaccinations are your best bet. The Hepatitis A vaccine is given as 2 shots, 6 months apart. Both are needed to achieve long-term protection from the virus. More importantly, though, it is necessary to remember to practice good hygiene. Washing your hands is still an effective way to combat germs. Safetec’s SaniWash is an antimicrobial hand wash that aids in reducing the risk of cross-contamination. This product is formulated to kill germs effectively while remaining gentle on skin.