California’s hepatitis A outbreak could be years from over, health officials warned on Thursday. The viral disease has infected at least 569 people, and claimed 17 lives since the outbreak began in San Diego in November 2016.
Public health emergencies have been declared in San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, where it has been spreading rapidly, primarily among the cities’ respective homeless populations and drug users.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that it is not uncommon for hepatitis A outbreaks to last over a year, and sometimes they linger even longer.
Hepatitis A, which is usually contracted from contaminated foods, has been spreading among the homeless populations of Los Angeles (pictured), who live in unsanitary conditions
San Diego, where the hepatitis A outbreak began, has installed hand-washing stations in areas known for dense populations of homeless and other at risk people to try to control the spread of the disease, but health officials say that the efforts won’t end the crisis any time soon
Monique Foster, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis said on Thursday that ‘it’s not unusual for them to last quite some time – usually over a year, one to two years,’ the Los Angeles Times reported.
What is hepatitis A and how can it be treated?
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can have both minor and severe symptoms for the person infected.
It is primarily spread when a person who isn’t vaccinated ingests food or water that has been contaminated with feces of an infected individual.
The virus is one of the most frequent causes for foodborne infections.
The incubation period of hepatitis A is normally 14 to 28 days.
People can experience:
- Loss of appetite
- Dark-colored urine
- Acute liver failure
Who is at risk?
Anyone who has not been vaccinated or has never been infected with the hepatitis A virus is at risk.
Other factors that increase risk include:
- Poor sanitation
- Lack of clean water
- Recreational drug use
- Living with an infected person or having sexual relations with one
- Traveling to areas with high risk without a vaccination
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A.
It may take some people a couple weeks to a couple months to recover from the symptoms.
Doctors recommend everyone to get a vaccination to help prevent the risk of getting infected by the virus.
The disease is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but the unsanitary living conditions of California’s homeless population have made it possible for the virus to be transferred from feces to mouth and person-to-person.
The affected cities have begun to take measures to stop the spread of hepatitis A, especially among their homeless populations.
They have been offering vaccinations, and installing hand washing stations in neighborhoods where there tend to be a greater number of homeless encampments.
But the CDC’s warning suggests that the disease’s spread could outpace local governments’ preventative efforts.
Hepatitis A can be hard to keep up with because some people show no symptoms, and if they do appear, it may not be for two to six weeks, according to the CDC’s website.
Those affected can spread the virus to others (in the right environmental conditions) up to two weeks before they would develop symptoms.
The outbreak began in San Diego in November 2016. With 481 cases and 17 deaths, the city has been affected worse than any other in the state.
San Diego officials declared a public health emergency in September.
Los Angeles followed suit, days later. The city has the second-largest homeless population in the US, and hoped that be by being proactive, it could reign in the disease’s spread among its nearly 58,000 homeless people.
So far, only 12 cases have been reported there.
Seventy cases have been reported in Santa Cruz and six have occurred in other parts of California.
Last Month, San Diego began installing hand-washing stations in areas like the city’s downtown, Balboa Park, the banks of the San Diego River and at homeless service centers.
The disease is completely preventable with vaccinations, and San Diego county health officials have vaccinated 57,000 people, including homeless people, drug-users and health and social workers that come into close contact with those populations, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The city also began hosing down the sidewalks of many areas with bleach and chlorine, in an attempt to cleanse what county health officials called a ‘fecally contaminated environment.’
Hepatitis A outbreaks transmitted from person-to-person have been a growing concern in the past year. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Colorado and Michigan are also in the midst of outbreaks.