San Diego County Declares Emergency Over Hepatitis A Outbreak

A public health emergency has been declared in San Diego County, Calif. over an outbreak of the liver disease hepatitis A that has caused 15 deaths and nearly 400 hospitalizations.

Homeless people have been hit hardest in the outbreak that began last November, the Associated Press reported.

With the emergency declaration last Friday, the county can request state help and has legal protection for new sanitation measures, including about 40 portable hand-washing stations for areas with large numbers of homeless people.

The hepatitis A virus lives in human feces and can be spread by infected people who don't properly clean their hands after going to the bathroom, the AP reported.

Water with bleach will be used for high-pressure washing to remove "all feces, blood, bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces," states a sanitation plan included in a letter sent to the San Diego city government.

Hand-washing and street-sanitizing measures will be implemented in other cities in the region over the coming weeks, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the region's public health officer, the AP reported.

The sanitation measures echo those used in a prior effort in Los Angeles, which has tens of thousands of homeless people.

Thousands of doses of hepatitis A vaccine have been distributed in San Diego county in an effort to fight the outbreak, but there has been little effect on infection rates, and deaths have risen in recent weeks, the AP reported.

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