California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a State of Emergency due to the hepatitis A outbreak reaching epidemic levels.
The devastating outbreak has killed at least 18 people and hospitalized another 386 so far, with thousands of others expected to be infected without knowing, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
ABC News reports: “This outbreak is different than any other we have seen in the United States in the past decade,” said Dr. Matt Zahn, medical director of epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency. “Previously, we have seen outbreaks that are food-borne, with a direct exposure to that food source. Ongoing person-to person spread is really not something we have seen in recent years.”
Also unique about this outbreak is that the homeless population and illicit drug users are the hardest hit.
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease, and the Governor’s state of emergency proclamation has given the CDPH the authority to directly purchase vaccines from manufacturers in order to quickly distribute them to the community.
“The key is to bring the vaccination directly to the communities at risk,” Zahn said. “This population is not easy to reach, so we make interventions to bring it to them. San Diego has done a marvelous job to have their staff go out to the homeless community, individual by individual, and offer the vaccine then and there.”
The outbreaks are affecting multiple counties in California, with the San Diego Jurisdiction bearing 490 infected cases. Since early spring, more than 80,000 vaccine doses have been distributed to the public and some municipalities have purchased their own supplies.
San Diego County said it has administered more than 68,500 vaccines since the outbreak began.
Sanitation and hygiene are other important aspects of controlling the spread of hepatitis A, which is spread through fecal matter. Since the outbreak began in the spring, more than 100 hand washing stations have been have been installed in the area, most of which are in the city of San Diego.
The city is also power-washing areas affected public areas with bleach solutions and making public bathrooms more available in areas most frequented by the homeless.