Facing an epidemic of homelessness on its streets, the City of San Diego now has a new related problem: a rapidly growing outbreak of Hepatitis A.
San Diego County health officials declared a public health emergency in the city as the rate of Hepatitis A infection continues to surge. So far the outbreak has sickened about 400 people and killed at least 15. These numbers are likely larger however because they only reflect the illnesses that have been reported and confirmed.
The health officials painted a picture of a downtown San Diego that is akin to an undeveloped country. A burgeoning homeless population coupled with a lack of public restrooms has turned the downtown area into a “fecally contaminated environment” that must be addressed.
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that is primarily spread when a person who isn’t vaccinated ingests food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected individual. Symptoms include fever, appetite loss, diarrhea, nausea, jaundice, dark-colored urine, and liver failure.
Because Hepatitis A is spread fecally, it is almost always propagated through poor hygiene and lack of sanitation.
According to the Daily Mail, San Diego first confronted the Hepatitis A outbreak with vaccinations and ramping up public education and awareness, but with little success. The city has now launched a twice-monthly street-washing program and it has extended public restroom hours, but it is uncertain how much these efforts will contain the spread of the disease.
The city’s latest actions come in response to a letter public health officials sent to the city giving it five days to come up with solutions to the outbreak, which is now so big that it could get out of control.
The County itself has installed more than three dozen hand-washing stations throughout the city to help curb the spread of the extremely hardy and highly contagious virus.