Stories

Hepatitis A Cases Rise in San Diego

April 11, 2017

By Ana Gomez Salcido

A total of 47 hepatitis A cases have been reported in the region since November 2016, more than four times the monthly average typically reported, the County Health and Human Services Agency announced.

The number is even higher than last year’s total number of cases, which were 25 cases. The rise is attributed to an outbreak that affected mainly the homeless population. Thirty-three cases have a history of substance abuse, and 30 are homeless.

This is the third outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego County in recent years. In 2013, there was an outbreak associated with a pomegranate berry mix were 19 cases presented, and there was a total of 40 cases that year. In 2008, there was another outbreak associated with a local restaurant with 22 cases related.

“This outbreak has surpassed the total number of cases in a year of the last six years,” said Wilma Wooten, County public health officer. “The County is working closely with the local health community to increase outreach to vulnerable populations to raise awareness and promote hepatitis A vaccination. Those at risk are urged to talk to their health care providers and get vaccinated for hepatitis A.”

In the last week, there were two mass vaccinations events held at St. Vincent de Paul Village were nearly 275 individual were vaccinated against hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. While the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, most adults have not been vaccinated and may be susceptible to the hepatitis A virus.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, and light-colored stools. Symptoms usually appear over a number of days and last less than two months.  However, some people can be ill for as long as six months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and death.

Risk factors for hepatitis A infection include living with or having close contact with someone who has the virus, or sharing injection or non-injection illegal drugs with someone who is infected. The hepatitis A virus can also be transmitted through contaminated food or water.

Wooten mentioned that the message to the community is to be aware of the outbreak and get the two series shot vaccination if they haven’t being vaccinated.

The hepatitis A vaccine is available at many doctors’ offices and clinics and at some retail pharmacies.  If people don’t have medical insurance, they can go to a County public health center to get vaccinated. For a list of locations, people can call 2-1-1.

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