Around 15 people have passed away, and other hundreds have been hospitalized due to hepatitis A outbreak that’s taken place all over San Diego’s center. Street power-washing efforts began on Monday to stop the spread of the viral liver disease after county officials demanded the city to take severe measures against the “fecally contaminated environment” that’s in the downtown area. The County Board of Supervisors declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

At the beginning of the week, San Diego citizens started to see workers wearing white protective gear and red hard hats down East Village, spraying a bleach-based, Hepatitis-killing liquid all over the sidewalks to disappear human feces contaminated with the virus. According to CBS8, the city’s mayoral spokeswoman Craig Gustafson assured that these cleaning-practices were scheduled to happen three times a week, every other week.

Image credit: Vo Themes
Image credit: Vo Themes

Due to the increase of people infected, the city will provide free hepatitis A vaccinations at the San Diego Central Library on September 19, from 2 to 5 p.m. Unvaccinated people can get infected by the Hepatitis A virus by just drinking or eating something that has been in contact with the feces of an infected person. Unlike hepatitis B and C, it might not be fatal, but it can produce debilitating symptoms and fulminant hepatitis – which indeed is usually fatal.

“The disease can lead to significant economic and social consequences in communities. It can take weeks or months for people recovering from the illness to return to work, school, or daily life,” according to the World Health Organization.

Officials try to control the Hepatitis outbreak caused by the increase in homeless people

Experts linked the viral liver disease outbreak to the excessive amount of homeless people who don’t know where to leave their human wastes due to the lack of public restrooms. Now, the city is implementing an extension on public restrooms hours, opening the possibilities for these homeless people to find the toilets available 24/7. According to the officials, this will help those who live in the streets, which are the most affected population, to stop getting infected with Hepatitis.

In the beginning, officials tried to contain the outbreak by providing public educational methods to avoid the virus, along with vaccines to prevent people from getting infected. However, they didn’t see many differences in the following days, so they added something more to their strategy.

Image credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune
Image credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune

The streets in San Diego now are being washed to hopefully remove “all feces, blood, bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces.” Also, according to the region’s public health officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, if these washing-practices work, they might be also implemented in other cities which public health might seem threatened by the virus.

“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.”

The homeless: The most affected

This year, according to a study led by the University of New Hampshire statistician Chris Glynn, and sponsored by the real estate database company Zillow, the number of people living in the street might have duplicated comparing with the last year. In 2016, the annual count in San Diego estimated that at least 8,669 people were homeless, but the Zillow study said that the number was actually 11,149, a difference of 28.6 percent.

This might mean that the number of homeless people for whom the government has estimated to create housing programs could be actually greater.

To eliminate the virus outbreak, the city has provided around 40 hand washing stations and the spraying of the bleach solution in the streets. Officials have mostly focused on areas where homeless San Diegans use to congregate -including Market and 16th Street down through Commercial -, washing the sidewalks more and developing three dozens of those 40 washing stations.

“By disinfecting our sidewalks and making additional public restrooms available 24/7, we’re following the direction of County health officials to address the unsanitary conditions that have helped fuel this outbreak,” San Diego mayoral spokeswoman Craig Gustafson said on Monday. “We’re taking swift action to eradicate this virus from our streets and keep our most vulnerable residents safe.”

The virus outbreak has affected San Diegans since November 2016, but not only the homeless. According to a statement from San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency, it has also infected the illicit drug users, and others who are neither. The county estimates that around 30 percent of the affected are not homeless or drug users.

Since March, about 19,000 people have been vaccinated. 7,000 of them were at high risk – including homeless San Diegans and people who work with them.

“I literally had no idea until yesterday which is kind of scary,” Laura Johnson, a small business owner downtown, said. In addition, another small business owner in San Diego named Jamie Miller, who was also shocked when he knew about the outbreak, told NBC 7 that “It sounds like a crazy thing to have on the streets in a first world city.”

Source: NBC San Diego