The L.A. County Department of Public Health has declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in Los Angeles County.
Similar outbreaks have been announced in San Diego and Santa Cruz counties. The large majority of cases have occurred in people who are homeless or use illegal drugs (both those that are injected and those that are not), with several cases occurring among people who provide services to the homeless.
Public Health has confirmed 10 cases of hepatitis A among high-risk individuals (those that are homeless or in institutions that serve the homeless) in L.A. County. Of the confirmed cases, four had been in San Diego and one had been in Santa Cruz when they were exposed. Three secondary cases occurred in a health care facility in Los Angeles County. The two most recent cases appear to have acquired their infection within Los Angeles County.
“Public Health has been proactively preparing for an outbreak for some time and is working diligently to prevent spread in local communities,” said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the interim health officer for L.A. County. “Our priorities are to keep all our residents both safe and well informed of the situation. Vaccination is the best protection against Hepatitis A. With this in mind, our outreach teams and clinics are offering free vaccine to persons who are homeless, active drug users, and those who provide services and support to those individuals.”
A person can get hepatitis A if he or she comes into contact with an infected person’s feces through contaminated food or objects. The hepatitis A virus also can be spread when a person does not properly wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom or changing diapers. Other modes of transmission include certain sexual practices, sharing equipment related to illicit drug use and consuming food or water contaminated with the virus. People who are homeless are at higher risk because they face challenges to maintaining good hygiene.
Doctors are required to report hepatitis cases to Public Health. Hepatitis A causes acute liver disease, which may be severe. Signs and symptoms of acute infection include fever, malaise, dark urine, lack of appetite, nausea and stomach pain, followed by jaundice. Symptoms generally last for less than two months, although some persons may have prolonged or more severe illness. Infection through close contact with those infected can be prevented by vaccination or administration of immune globulin within two weeks of exposure.
Taking the following steps can help prevent infection with Hepatitis A:
— Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A
— Don’t have sex with someone who has Hepatitis A infection
— Use your own towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils
— Don’t share food, drinks or smokes with other people
— Wash hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before preparing, serving or eating food.
Hepatitis A vaccination is available at Public Health clinics or from your health care provider. County residents may call the L.A. County Information line at 2-1-1 from any landline or cell phone within the county for referrals to providers offering vaccines at no-cost or a reduced cost. For patients without access to the vaccine, Public Health will have vaccine available at its Public Health Centers located throughout the county.