San Diego Health Emergency from Hepatitis A Outbreak
Cases linked to the outbreak of Hepatitis A were first reported in November. As of Friday, more than 15 people in the area have died from hepatitis infections and more than 350 others are ill.
San Diego’s homeless population has been hit hardest by the highly contagious hepatitis A virus.
According to the World Health Organization most hepatitis A outbreaks are primarily spread when an uninfected person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation, and poor personal hygiene.
Hepatitis A infections are common among the homeless population due to the lack of access to sanitary facilities. San Diego’s efforts to combat the illness began earlier this summer. Health workers promoted hand washing practices and stepped-up street cleanings – but an article published by Voice of San Diego highlighted bureaucratic obstacles that have delayed sanitation improvements in the city.
Areas with high concentrations of homeless people will receive dozens of portable hand-washing stations. Health workers will also use bleached-spiked water for power-washing contaminated surfaces. Dr. Wilma Wooten, the San Diego Public Health Officer who signed the emergency designation into law on Friday, says the sanitation precautions are modeled after similar programs in other Southern California cities – including 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,” she said. “It makes sense that, if they’re (performing enhanced cleaning measures) there and they haven’t had any cases, it could be beneficial here as well.”