New Hepatitis A Cases Drop Significantly

County nurse Paulina Bobenrieth vaccinates a patient in downtown San Diego.
County nurse Paulina Bobenrieth vaccinates a patient in downtown San Diego.

The region’s hepatitis A outbreak appears to have peaked amid a significant drop in the number of new cases reported, according to local health officials.

Between May and September, there was an average of just over 84 confirmed cases per month during the height of the outbreak. That number slowed to 34 cases in October and dropped to 20 in November. So far, there have been just two confirmed or probable cases reported in December.

“This downward trend in outbreak activity is evidence that our strategic approach of vaccination, sanitation and education has been working to halt this outbreak,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “It’s still important that anyone with a known risk for hepatitis A who has not been vaccinated do so now so we can continue this trend.”

Since the outbreak was identified in March 2017, there have been 571 confirmed cases resulting in 390 hospitalizations and 20 deaths.

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

The County and community partners have given 113,230 vaccinations, including 96,570 to at-risk populations, as part of the County’s vaccination, sanitation and education strategy.

Expanded outreach efforts continue in targeted communities to make sure the outbreak does not extend into other populations, including:

  • Vaccination clinics and an educational campaign aimed at the men who have sex with men community
  • Education and food safety guidelines provided to the faith-based community so they can continue their charity and food distribution efforts over the holidays

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 is 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