A lot of people are getting infected every day in the hepatitis A outbreak that has whipped five US states this year since late August. Around 40 have died, 800 have been hospitalized, and more than 1200 have reported suffering from this virus that started escalating among homeless and drug addicted, but now is affecting any person from any background.
Many efforts have been made to stop this epidemic. In middle September, around a dozen of people died in San Diego’s center after noticing they were suffering from the viral liver disease. This made health officials order to wash the areas with a bleach-based, Hepatitis-killing liquid — exactly where people had contaminated the streets with their feces.
Moreover, the city provided the people with free hepatitis A vaccinations and portable handwashing stations in the streets of the San Diego County. Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors declared the outbreak a public health emergency.
Unfortunately, it seems these efforts have not been enough. Now, besides California, the outbreak has arrived in Michigan, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.
The California Department of Public Health said that America never saw such a hepatitis A epidemic since the vaccine for the virus was introduced into the country for the first time in the mid-1990s.
At first, those who were the most reported of suffering from hepatitis A was homeless people and drug-addicts. But everything has changed nowadays, and more individuals from higher-status keep getting infected with the virus.
In California, a third of the 644 confirmed ill people are neither homeless nor drug-addicts. Similar to Southeast Michigan, where a fourth of the 495 infected people aren’t either of them.
The LA County informed that there are 15 reported cases of people with hepatitis A among homeless and substance abusers. However, officials said that 14 gay and bisexual men had been infected with the virus — a high increase, compared to 2016 where nine cases emerged, and just one the year before.
“We’ve got to be there with those that we’re asking to help us deal with our homeless population,” said L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn. “We’ve got to be as concerned about their public safety as we are the safety of those who are sleeping on the streets. This could be a huge public health crisis.”
Officials from the city, states, and counties of all the five states have talked about what to do to face this hepatitis A outbreak as soon as possible.
It seems that they’re going to put more pressure in the efforts they’re already making — including washing the streets where homeless people and drug-addicts often gather, opening new public restrooms available at late hours at night, and closing down programs where volunteers in churches and charitable organizations give food to homeless individuals.
It’s better to get the hepatitis A vaccine
Experts consider that the best way to avoid being infected with the virus is to get vaccinated. In San Diego, around 90,735 people have done it. But from that total, the majority have received just the first of the two-shot series. This still represents a considerable protection for those individuals, as Dr. Wilma Wooten said.
Wooten, who’s also the Public Health Director at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, believes that the goal is “to get that vaccine in as many arms as possible for that first dose.” She explained that those who get the first vaccine receive 90 to 95 percent of the protection against the virus. But if they want to reach a close 100 percent, they have to get the second shot.
The immense amount of people asking for the hepatitis A vaccine has generated almost a crisis of this supply, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the high demand is not only in the US. Its availability has also been constrained around the world.
Meanwhile, the only two companies that the Food and Drug Administration approved to sell the vaccine, Merck & Co., and GlaxoSmithKline, said that they’re trying to keep up with the high demand and that they’re working to cover it completely.
All people — no matter their social or health status — should take the due precautions and get vaccinated, as experts recommend.
Gay and bisexual men, the highest hepatitis A infected in LA
The county health department is offering free vaccines at its clinics for those men who belong to the LGTB community.
The number of gay and bisexual infected men is increasing not only across the US but also in South America and Europe — says the medical epidemiologist with L.A. County’s public health department, Dr. Prabhu Gounder.
“What we were concerned about is that we’re at the beginning of a similar trend in L.A, and we wanted to get ahead of that,” said Gounder while adding that some LA citizens have traveled to other countries with outbreaks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that gay and bisexual men represent the ten percent of positive hepatitis A people in the US each year.
People usually notice they are infected with the virus after the incubation period, which lasts about 30 to 50 days. Those who get the virus is often because they touched contaminated feces.
Source: Los Angeles Times