California Suffering Deadly Outbreak of Hepatitis A Which Could Last for Years

Police officers try to help the homeless find services in San Diego, where poor sanitation has contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak. (John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)
Police officers try to help the homeless find services in San Diego, where poor sanitation has contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak. (John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

California’s outbreak of hepatitis A, already the nation’s second largest in the last 20 years, could continue for many months, even years, health officials said Thursday.

At least 569 people have been infected and 17 have died of the virus since November in San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles counties, where local outbreaks have been declared.

Dr. Monique Foster, a medical epidemiologist with the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Thursday that California’s outbreak could linger even with the right prevention efforts.

“It’s not unusual for them to last quite some time — usually over a year, one to two years,” Foster said.

That forecast has worried health officials across the state, even in regions where there haven’t yet been cases.

Many are beginning to offer vaccines to their homeless populations, which are considered most at risk. Doctors say that people with hepatitis A could travel and unknowingly infect people in a new community, creating more outbreaks.

San Diego, Santa Cruz and L.A.

San Diego County declared a public health emergency in September because of its hepatitis A outbreak.

Since November, 481 people there have fallen ill, including 17 who died, according to Dr. Eric McDonald with the county’s health department. An additional 57 cases are under investigation, he said.

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SOURCE: Soumya Karlamangla 
Los Angeles Times