*Updated on 09/13/2017 at 9:08 AM EST
A hepatitis A outbreak continues to plague San Diego, California, as a growing number individuals fall ill with infection. The death toll is now 16.
Since the outbreak began, San Diego’s Health & Human Services Agency has confirmed
a staggering 421 cases; about 70% of those infected have been hospitalized. More than half (65%) are homeless, illicit drug users, or both.
The situation has become so dire that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors declared a local health emergency on September 1, 2017 in order to “raise awareness of the outbreak and allow the County to potentially ask for mutual aid if necessary.”
In response to the outbreak, health officials have been hard at work implementing a 3-part strategy focused on immunization, sanitation, and education. According to the San Diego County News Center, with the help of community partners, clinicians have successfully immunized over 19,000 individuals, 7,300 of which were considered to be at high-risk for infection. A total of 256 mass vaccination events as well as 109 “foot teams” consisting of public health nurses who have been deployed into areas heavily populated with homeless people to offer vaccinations.
In addition to these efforts, new vaccination recommendations have been issued by the county’s public health officer calling for food handlers to receive vaccination against the virus.
“This is a pro-active recommendation because the ongoing outbreak means that the risk to the general public is higher than normal,” Wilma Wooten, MD, MPH, county public health officer stated in recent news 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.”
As of today, September 12, 2017, the source of the outbreak has not been identified.
Officials stress that by engaging in good hygiene habits, infection with hepatitis A can be prevented
. Individuals should avoid touching the doors of public restrooms before exiting, and refrain from sharing any food products or beverages with others.
When it comes to sanitation efforts, 40 handwashing stations have been installed in areas throughout the city that are known to be heavily populated with homeless individuals. Health officials are also working on sanitizing such areas in hopes that this will decrease the spread of the virus. Individuals should wash their hands
for at least 20 seconds with soap and clean water before consuming food and after using the restroom. Furthermore, county staff have given out over 2400 hygiene kits to vulnerable individuals; these kits contain hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, bottled water, a plastic bag for waste, and educational materials on the virus.
A prevention outreach program that was launched back in August 2017 in trolleys and bus stations throughout the city, is also being extended into North County. Over 50 educational presentations have been delivered to promote awareness of the virus and encourage individuals to take proper preventive measures against infection.
To stay up-to-date on the latest news regarding the hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego, be sure to check out the Contagion ® Outbreak Monitor
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