San Diego steps up containment battle as Hepatitis A outbreak kills 16

Private cleaning crews and public health workers are mobilized on the streets of San Diego, working to stop a Hepatitis A outbreak that has claimed at least 16 lives so far.

San Diego city and county officials said they are collaborating on solutions to the aggressive outbreak –- which has at least 421 known cases in San Diego county, including 292 hospitalizations, since last November. They have stepped up containment plans, which now include everything from street cleaning and vaccination to distributing flyers and planning possible temporary housing for the California city’s homeless, who have been hard-hit by the virus.

“We must continue to work collaboratively to stop this crisis and save lives,” San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said in a statement today.

On Monday, the city of San Diego increased its sanitation measures. The city hired a private contractor to spray the streets with a bleach and a water solution to kill bacteria, began installing outdoor hand washing stations and earmarked 14 bathrooms to stay open 24 hours per day to aid the sizable homeless population, who officials say make up the majority of the outbreak’s victims.

San Diego County declared a public health emergency on Sept. 1 and has an active campaign to contain the virus including vaccinations, increased sanitation and distributing educational materials.

The virus has been steadily declining across the U.S. over the past decades. The last reported figures of Hepatitis A from the CDC, in 2014, showed a total of 1,239 cases nationwide.

The Hepatitis A virus is easily spread from person-to-person, usually through fecal matter, so hand washing after using the bathroom is paramount in controlling it’s spread, health officials say.

Symptoms of infection include nausea, anorexia, fever, malaise, or abdominal pain and patients may show outward signs like jaundice and pale stools.

Immunization is effective against the virus and San Diego County has deployed health workers to vaccinate people in communities and run vaccination events. The county said they have vaccinated approximately 19,000 people so far.

Hepatitis A has an incubation time of 15 – 50 days and can go undetected for some time, which officials caution may stretch containment efforts over several months.