On Friday, California Governor John Brown declared a State of Emergency in the state. The decision came after California began experiencing the largest person-person Hepatitis A outbreak in more than twenty years, reported ABC News.
As of last Friday, the outbreak had killed at least 18 people, hospitalized 386, and infected at least 578 in the state, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
ABC News spoke to Dr. Matt Zahn, medical director of epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency, about the nature of the outbreak. He said it’s different than what they’ve seen in recent years.
“This outbreak is different than any other we have seen in the United States in the past decade," said Dr. Matt Zahn. "Previously, we have seen outbreaks that are foodborne, with a direct exposure to that food source. Ongoing person-to-person spread is really not something we have seen in recent years."
He also noted that the homeless population and illicit drug users are the hardest hit. He calls this “unique” about the outbreak.
One of the things that the declaration of a State of Emergency allows is the ability to purchase vaccines directly from manufactures. This will allow vaccines for Hep A, which is vaccine-preventable, to be distributed to communities more quickly.
“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 impacting multiple counties in California. San Diego Jurisdiction has 490 infected cases.
In addition to vaccines, the disease, which is spread via fecal matter, can be controlled with sanitation and hand washing. Since the spring, San Diego has installed more than 100 hand washing stations in public areas. They are also power washing public areas with bleach solutions.
ABC News offered some answers to the common questions people have about Hepatitis A. What follows is from their article.
"How is Hepatitis A spread?
Since this virus spreads through the feces, outbreaks are most commonly seen in the presence of unsanitary conditions or behaviors. Food workers can spread the virus if they do not properly wash their hands after using the bathroom and caregivers can transmit the virus after changing the diaper of an infected baby.”
“Hepatitis A can spread by simply touching objects, or through contaminated food or drinks. People may also be infected by eating uncooked food that has been contaminated, sexual contact with an infected person and travel to a country where Hepatitis A is common. The virus can be spread to others before any symptoms are apparent.”
What are symptoms of Hepatitis A?
The hepatitis A virus causes inflammation of the liver. Symptoms of infection include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Yellowing of the skin and eyes, also know has jaundice, is also a possible symptom of this virus.
Hepatitis A is an acute infection, with symptoms persisting for up to two months; rare cases may last longer. The virus does not typically lead to chronic infection or death, but it can prove fatal to those with compromised livers or immune systems.
How to protect against the virus
The best way to prevent getting Hepatitis A is through vaccination, given in a two-dose series, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The vaccine is especially recommended for those at particularly increased risk, such as people with chronic liver disease, blood clotting disorders, men who have sex with men, those traveling to areas known to have the virus, such as parts of Africa and Asia, and those who could be in direct contact with people infected with hepatitis A, like healthcare workers.
The virus can live for months outside of the body on objects and surfaces, according to the CDC, and it can be difficult to kill.
“Hepatitis A is a hardy virus, and can certainly stay on surfaces and in the environment [for a long time],” Zahn said. Importantly, most waterless hand sanitizers and some household cleaners are not effective in destroying the virus. So when it comes to preventing spread, washing hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water is the best bet. Using bleach-based cleaning products is the most effective to clean surfaces in a way that eliminates the hepatitis A virus."
In other news, California Governor John Brown also signed a law that created a third gender in California. Find out what that means.