San Diego declares health emergency after hepatitis outbreak

San Diego county in Southern California in the US declared a local health emergency after an outbreak of hepatitis A that killed 15 people and hospitalized hundreds more.

Wilma Wooten, the region’s public health officer, signed the declaration on Friday night, bolstering the County Health and Human Services Agency’s ability to request assistance from the state and providing legal protections for a slate of actions that began unfolding across the city earlier in the day, Xinhua reported on Saturday citing the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“As of today, at least 379 cases have been reported since late November 2016, with 15 deaths. The majority of people who have contracted Hepatitis A are homeless and/or illicit drug users. The outbreak is being spread person-to-person and through contact with a fecally contaminated environment,” wrote Helen Robbins-Meyer, Chief Administrative Officer of County of San Diego, in a letter to Wooten one day earlier.

The outbreak of hepatitis A is reportedly to be the largest in California in two decades.

Working on a county contract, a private company began delivering portable hand-washing stations Friday morning in locations where homeless residents tend to congregate.

Twenty stations were in place by the end of the day and 20 more were scheduled for installation Saturday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) which is highly contagious. It can cause liver disease, lasting a few weeks to a serious illness lasting months. In some cases, people can die.

“Hepatitis A can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine,” wrote Health and Human Services Agency of the County on its official website, “Vaccination efforts are being implemented in targeted locations by County staff and in collaboration with health care partners.”

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