Tag Archives: San Diego

Hepatitis A Outbreak Expands Throughout Southern California

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

In mid-September 2017, HEAL Blog wrote about the extreme measures taken by San Diego County and city to combat a severe outbreak of Hepatitis A (HAV) among the county’s homeless, indigent, and illicit drug user populations (Hopkins, 2017). At that time, the HAV outbreak consisted of 421 confirmed cases, 292 hospitalizations, and 16 deaths. That initial outbreak, which began in November 2016, has continued to grow with 481 confirmed cases, 337 hospitalizations, and 17 deaths (Sisson, 2017). The outbreak is also spreading.

Both Santa Cruz and Los Angeles Counties have begun seeing outbreaks of HAV related to the initial outbreak in San Diego County, with 68 confirmed cases in Santa Cruz County (Health Services Agency, 2017) and 12 confirmed cases in Los Angeles County, 9 of which required hospitalization (Acute Communicable Disease Control, 2017). These cases do not include all of the reported HAV cases; only those connected to the San Diego outbreak. These cases are primary among the same populations in these counties as they were in San Diego County – homeless, indigent, and illicit drug users.

Hepatitis A Facts

Photo Source: MedChitChat.com

According to Kaiser Health News writer, Stephanie O’Neill, poor access to restrooms and sinks in homeless encampments is largely to blame for these outbreaks (O’Neill, 2017). San Diego County responded to their outbreak by installing 40 portable hand-washing stations throughout the downtown areas hardest hit by the outbreak, leaving public restrooms open overnight, and power-washing heavily soiled sections of downtown sidewalks and streets with a bleach solution in an effort to stop the spread of the virus (O’Neill).

Southern California’s HAV outbreak is being described as “unprecedented” and “the largest outbreak in the U.S. that is not related to a contaminated food product” since the U.S. first introduced a vaccine for hepatitis A in 1995 (O’Neill). This trend is unlikely to be restricted to Southern California. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), “Despite a lack of affordable housing and shelter space, many cities have chosen to criminally or civilly punish people living on the street for doing what any human being must do to survive” (NLCHP, n.d.). Additionally, the NLCHP notes that, since 2006, bans on camping city-wide have increased by 69%, bans on sleeping in public have increased by 31%, bans on sitting or lying down in public have increased 52%, bans on loitering, loafing, and vagrancy have increased 88%, and bans on living in vehicles have increased 143% (NLCHP). Furthermore, most cities in the U.S. close public restrooms at dusk, leaving homeless people with nowhere to relieve themselves.

While the intention of these bans is to move cities’ homeless populations out of the line of sight and create “safer” public spaces for homed populations, the real-life effect has resulted in creating conditions ripe for the spread of diseases like HAV. People who lack access to restroom and handwashing facilities are forced to relieve themselves in the open, creating biohazardous waste and fostering the spread of HAV to potentially anyone who comes in contact with their refuse.

It is also likely that, as more cities are hit with HAV outbreaks related to homelessness and illicit drug use, responses will vary between highly effective public health responses like those put in place by San Diego County, and highly ineffective criminalization responses that end up creating worse circumstances than they purport to fix.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Hepatitis A: Extreme Sanitation Measures in San Diego

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

As a blog designed to talk about issues related to Viral Hepatitis and HIV, we do our best to stay focused on the topic of Hepatitis C (HCV). Recent developments in San Diego, CA, however, have captured our attention and merit coverage and discussion.

Since early 2017, the Public Health Services Division (PHSD) in the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has been investigating a significant outbreak of the Hepatitis A (HAV) virus. As of September 12, 2017, there have been 421 confirmed cases of Acute HAV which have resulted in 292 hospitalizations (69%) and 16 deaths (3.8%). The majority of these cases have been within San Diego’s homeless and/or illicit drug user populations, although some cases have been neither (HHSA, 2017).

Hepatitis A Outbreak Spreads Beyond Homeless in San Diego

Photo Source: San Diego Informer

HAV is spread primarily by ingesting the virus by way of contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person, and the symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and/or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes). Moreover, HAV is very hardy and is able to live outside the human body for months, making it particularly easy to spread (CDC, 2016).

In response to this outbreak, San Diego has taken the unusually proactive step of implementing extreme health measures in order to combat the spread of HAV including the installation of 40 handwashing stations in areas with high concentrations of homeless people, sanitization efforts in those areas, holding 256 mass vaccination events and 109 “foot teams” of public health nurses who go into the aforementioned areas to offer vaccinations, distributing over 2,400 hygiene kits that include water, non-alcohol hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, clinic location information, and plastic bags, and implementing street cleaning protocols that require sanitation department workers to power-wash streets and buildings with chlorine and bleach (Bever, 2017).

While these measures may seem extreme, the reality of combating an HAV outbreak once it’s already taken hold means that extraordinary steps must be taken. Despite the availability of HAV vaccinations since 1995, much of the homeless and indigent population either lack access to those healthcare resources, or are too old to have been vaccinated as children. During the mass vaccination events, county health officials have vaccinated 19,000 people, including 7,300 considered to be at-risk of contracting the disease (Warth, 2017). Additionally, the city has agreed to extend public toilet hours to 24/7 in order to allow homeless people access to the restrooms, rather than defecate in the open, whether others may come in contact (Montes, 2017).

While these proactive measures will certainly help to combat the spread, the most important step will be reaching, vaccinating, and educating hard-to-reach/hard-to-treat homeless, indigent, and/or illicit drug user populations in an effort to effect behavioral changes in order to prevent further spread of the disease. This means teaching proper handwashing techniques, proper hygiene, and proper sterilization of equipment used to partake in illicit drug use. San Diego, despite the dire circumstances it currently endures, is taking the right steps to ensure safer streets for their homeless population.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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