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San Diego Declares Emergency Due To Hepatitis A Outbreak

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San Diego has been experiencing a hepatitis A virus outbreak, especially among its homeless population.

The outbreak started in November, and spread after vaccination and educational efforts in the California city failed to curb infection rates, NPR reports. Hepatitis A attacks the liver.

The city announced a public health emergency, boosting the county’s Health and Human Services Agency’s ability to ask for state assistance in order to fund new measures for sanitation. Areas populated by homeless people will get multiple portable hand-washing stations, and health workers will use water with bleach to power-wash contaminated surfaces.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the San Diego Public Health Officer who confirmed the declaration, says that these sanitation steps take after similar programs in other California cities in the south, such as Los Angeles.

“We know that L.A. has had no local cases of hepatitis A related to the strain that we’re seeing here in San Diego,” Wooten said. “It makes sense that, if they’re doing it there and they haven’t had any cases, it could be beneficial here as well.”

As of Friday, over 15 people have died from hepatitis A infections, and over 350 others have fallen sick.

The World Health Organization says most hepatitis A outbreaks are mainly spread when a person takes in food or water that are contaminated with the feces of infected people. This is a sickness closely linked to unsafe water or food, poor sanitation and lacking personal hygiene.

Hepatitis A infections are common among the homeless because of the deficiency of sanitation facilities. There have been concerns over the city’s capability to handle the ongoing outbreak, as the Service Employees International Union says the county does not employ enough public health workers to address the scale of the epidemic.

The California State Legislature is trying to determine whether or not the amount of health resources in the county are enough.

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