August 23, 2019

San Diego County Declares Hepatitis A Emergency

A Hepatitis A emergency has been declared in San Diego County in California. Public health officials have been tracking this outbreak for months. As of August 29, 2017, 378 cases have been diagnosed. Fifteen deaths have been attributed to this illness, and 263 people have been hospitalized, for a hospitalization rate of 70%.

Hepatitis A

The emergency was declared on September 1, 2017. The local health emergency will stay in effect for seven days unless it is extended.

Most of those who contracted this illness, about 70%, are homeless or illicit drug uses. Some cases, however, have been neither. The outbreak is being spread person-to-person and through contact with human feces. Officials have not been able to identify a common source of food, beverages, or drugs.

The county is asking that people get vaccinated against the disease. In the Friday news release, the list of people who should be vaccinated now includes people who handle food. Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer, told Fox5, “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.”

The vaccine is also recommended to people who work in public safety, sanitation, homeless shelters, and service providers. The vaccination can be obtained from pharmacies and doctors. County public health centers will administer the vaccine at no cost. You can find a list of vaccine locations at SDIZ.

Health care providers are being asked to be on the lookout for this illness, and to inform the Epidemiology Program if a patient has the illness, or if someone is suspected of having the infection.

The symptoms of hepatitis A include lethargy, weight loss, loss of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), clay-colored stools, and dark urine. Most people get sick about two weeks after exposure to the virus, and can remain ill for weeks or months. The illness can be deadly to anyone with a chronic illness, especially liver disease.

Unfortunately, people are contagious before they show symptoms. And since the illness is primarily spread through contaminated food and drink, food workers can infect many people if they are ill.

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