San Diego County is in a public health emergency due to the spread of hepatitis A. Officials declared the state of emergency after 15 deaths because of the disease. Most of the victims were homeless people.
The outbreak apparently started back in November, but the authorities didn’t hasten to face and admit this increasing emergency. Declaring the state of emergency might help to get assistance and legal support from the federal government and the state. Hundreds have been affected by the outbreak.
“There is no precedent for this,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the region’s public health officer. “We will definitely have a playbook for if we have something like this in the future, but this is the first time we have had something of this nature happen.”
15 deaths and more than 400 hospitalized due to the hepatitis A outbreak
The hepatitis outbreak in San Diego County is not under control, and therefore, 15 people have lost their lives already, and hundreds more are threatened in the whole county. As of August 29, the county reported 378 cases, including 15 deaths. The first cases of hepatitis A in the county were reported back in November, but they were not that many, apparently. It wasn’t until last spring when epidemiologists noticed that the disease was spreading faster than usual.
They are already taking the necessary sanitation measures to combat the outbreak; however, it is difficult since they don’t have an established procedure to face this type of threat. They have installed 40 portable hand-washing station in areas with a high concurrence of people, in particular for the homeless. The county is expected to provide a list of the hand-washing locations today, and the City of San Diego said it would be expediting the process to ensure that the County can install the stations as soon as possible.
Hepatitis A is a disease that is transmitted when people don’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom and person-to-person. It can also be transmitted through food made under poor sanitary conditions. The virus lives in human feces. Another measure to combat the disease is using bleach-spiked water for high-pressure washing to remove feces, blood, bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces.
Mayor: Faulconer: ‘We must continue to work collaboratively to stop this crisis and save lives’
According to Dr. Wooten, other cities in the region might also see hand- washing and street-sanitizing efforts in the weeks to come. Up until now, the primary measure strategy in San Diego County was vaccination and education to make people aware. The San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach, Psychiatric Emergency Response and Quality of Life teams have distributed thousands of free vaccines since June, but the infection rates didn’t decrease that much, and the results have not been favorable. To face this outbreak, San Diego County has gotten inspiration from a previous campaign that was carried out in Los Angeles where tens of thousands of homeless live.
“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. “If they’re doing it there and they haven’t had any cases, it could be beneficial here as well.”
The city has also recommended the implementation of new sanitation procedures for sidewalks streets and gutters within the next 10 working days.
Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer has been accused of not doing what it takes to take care of the homeless during this difficult situation. The Mayor said that the City would support the county’s Health and Human Services in every way possible to cease the outbreak.
On the other hand, the San Diego Central Library is working with the County to provide free hepatitis A vaccination clinics every third Tuesday of the month from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. starting on September 19.
The county will keep on working with the City to promote awareness by giving education materials such as posters and fliers in recreation centers and buildings. They are also working to educate people attending facilities that work with homeless people to avoid contamination and to promote cleaner spaces.
Hepatitis A is mild for healthy people. Nonetheless, it can lead to liver failure and death. Victims tend to show a yellowish color, and their bodies get filled with infected fluids. This is particularly concerning when it comes to homeless people who are prone to not getting the proper medical attention.
Source: ABC News