Blaze at homeless encampment in San Diego County may have exposed firefighters to hepatitis A

A team of firefighters may have been exposed to hepatitis A while battling a vegetation fire early Sunday at a homeless encampment in Spring Valley, officials said.

A “large amount” of urine and feces had accumulated at the encampment, prompting hazardous materials crews to require firefighters to decontaminate with soap and water before leaving the scene, according to the San Miguel Fire Protection District.

One firefighter fell and twisted his back after stepping into a bucket of waste. He was treated at a hospital and released.

Eleven firefighters were tested for the virus Monday and received injections to prevent infection.

It’s unclear if anyone who lives in the encampment, which officials said has anywhere from 20 to 100 people at a given time, is infected. The fire district asked San Diego County health officials to test the waste, as well as those living in the encampment.

The fire erupted about 1:30 a.m. near Spring Canyon Drive, east of San Diego. The blaze briefly threatened a nearby condominium complex.

San Diego health officials this month declared a public health emergency after it has tried for months to contain an outbreak of highly contagious hepatitis A, which has killed 16 people.

Officials have vaccinated more than 19,000 people, put up posters at bus stations and distributed hand sanitizer and cleansing wipes. Even so, hundreds of people have fallen ill in what officials say is the nation’s second-largest outbreak of the virus in decades.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AleneTchek

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