Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County claims 5th victim
A fifth person has died in San Diego County’s ongoing hepatitis A outbreak — the state’s largest in two decades, public health officials said Wednesday.
The outbreak started in November and has grown among the region’s homeless population. There have been 228 confirmed infections, including 161 people who had to be hospitalized, according to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.
The virus that causes the disease moves from person to person through shared food, drink, drugs or other forms of close contact. Health investigators have not discovered the source of the outbreak, although they noted that poor sanitation is the most likely culprit.
If left untreated, hepatitis A attacks the liver and can lead to death.
According to the county’s latest update, about 70% of the confirmed cases have involved homeless people. The health agency has declined to make public the ages and genders of the five people who have died.
Hepatitis A can be prevented through vaccination, and that has been the agency’s main strategy for stopping the outbreak. Free, county-run vaccination clinics have been offered since the spring at certain nonprofit groups’ facilities where the homeless receive services. In recent weeks, public health nurses have expanded their participation in vaccination “foot teams,” visiting people living everywhere from city streets to public parks.
Public health experts said that in addition to getting vaccinated, people should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and running water before eating and after using the bathroom. People are also advised to avoid directly touching bathroom door handles when exiting a public restroom and avoid shared food, beverages or smoking materials.
County officials have indicated that they will pursue installation of hand-washing stations and distribution of sanitation kits for the homeless.
Sisson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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