Health

Hepatitis A Outbreak is Showing Signs of Slowing

Hand washing with soap and water can help to stop the spread of hepatitis A.
Hand washing with soap and water can help to stop the spread of hepatitis A.

The hepatitis A outbreak appears to be slowing as the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency announced today it had topped 100,000 vaccinations in the effort to bring the outbreak under control.

The County and community partners have given 100,147 vaccinations, including 84,895 to at-risk populations, as part of the County’s vaccination, sanitation and education strategy.

The County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday extended the local health emergency for another two weeks. The Board is required to review the need for continuing the emergency, which was declared on Sept. 1, every 14 days.

In a presentation to the Board, health officials noted the downward trend in new cases over the past 11 weeks. Only two new cases were added to the total since the previous report.

There have been 546 cases of hepatitis A associated with the outbreak as of Nov. 8, with 369 people requiring hospitalization and 20 deaths.

Although the outbreak is slowing down, health officials asked the public to remain vigilant and is encouraging those in any at-risk group to get vaccinated, including a push for men who have sex with men (MSM).

Officials are hoping to prevent an increase in cases among that population. Michigan, New York City and Colorado have all seen a recent outbreak of hepatitis A among the MSM population. In Los Angeles County, 12 of the 14 reported cases of hepatitis A are in the MSM group.

The County and the San Diego LGBT Community Center have one more free hepatitis A vaccination and flu shot clinic scheduled for Nov. 22 from 3 to 6 p.m. The event is open to any member of the public. The LGBT Center is located at 3909 Centre St. in San Diego.

The risk groups identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2006 include:

  • Users of injection or non-injection illegal drugs
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People with chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • Travelers to countries with high or medium rates of hepatitis A virus
  • People with clotting factor disorders

Because of the ongoing hepatitis A outbreak, the County Health and Human Services Agency is also recommending that the following people be vaccinated as well:

  • People who are homeless
  • People who work on a close and ongoing basis with or clean up after homeless individuals and/or users of illegal drugs
  • Food handlers

Hepatitis A is most commonly spread from person to person through the fecal-oral route. 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 even death.

For general information on hepatitis A, visit the HHSA hepatitis website where data are updated routinely. A hepatitis A fact sheet is also available.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact