The death toll in San Diego's hepatitis A outbreak increased Tuesday, and the region's top public health official said she hasn't seen any signs of a slowdown in the public health emergency that has now killed 17 people.
Dr. Wilma Wooten said there are 49 suspected hepatitis cases and one death still under investigation. A week ago, there were 44 cases, and the number of investigations has bounced from roughly 30 to 50 at any given time for several months, public health officials said.
"Until the numbers start dropping, we won't have a clear indication of whether we have turned the corner or not," Wooten said after making a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors.
She said the overall case count jumped to 461 Tuesday, with 315 hospitalizations since November and 17 deaths. That's an increase of one death, 17 cases and 10 hospitalizations from a week ago.
Labs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have confirmed current case counts, and Wooten said her office is waiting for word from the CDC that an 18th death was caused by one of the 1B hepatitis strains responsible for the outbreak in San Diego and several other California communities.
The CDC sent two of its workers to San Diego for a three-week period after the health department requested assistance in May. Dr. Nick Yphantides, the health department's medical director, said the CDC will send representatives to San Diego next week for a planning meeting with local public health staffers.
San Diego County has seen a major uptick in hepatitis A vaccinations after a group of local government and healthcare workers, led by Yphantides, announced a public education campaign last week that encourages vaccinations for at-risk groups, frequent hand-washing and other hygiene and sanitation efforts.
Sisson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.