Investigation Reveals Hepatitis A Outbreak in Homeless Population
(by Melissa Hartman) – The Monterey County Health Department announced Monday that disease levels of hepatitis A have reached an outbreak in their homeless population, according to an investigation that began early last year.
The health departments from San Diego and Santa Cruz counties have been investigating local hepatitis A outbreaks among individuals who are homeless or use illicit drugs. They found that since October, nine people with a history of homelessness were diagnosed in Monterey County, according to the health department.
Health department officials believe that these people did not travel outside of the county, so they are assumed to have become sick due to transmission within the homeless and illegal drug use communities in the area.
The hepatitis A virus is a disease of the liver, with symptoms that can include fever, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain, yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark urine, pale stools and diarrhea, health department officials said.
Some people who have the virus may not feel ill but can still pass it on to others. It is passed through eating or drinking food contaminated with the disease or by touching objects contaminated with hepatitis A and then touching the mouth or food. It can also spread through sexual contact.
County health department officials said they have been working with medical providers, businesses and homeless service providers to educate people about hepatitis A and how to prevent transmission, promote vaccination and disinfection of areas frequented by the populations, but the disease continues to spread.
“Despite our efforts, hepatitis A continues to spread among the at-risk population,” county health officer Dr. Edward Moreno said in a statement. “To stop the outbreak, we must as a community collectively increase our efforts to end transmission of the hepatitis A virus.”
Monterey County health officials recommend four strategies to health providers and business owners to prevent further infection: vaccination, education, increased hand-washing hygiene and disinfection of public areas.
Places with public restrooms, employees who work with food or those who volunteer anywhere with direct medical care to the populations should specifically take extra precautions to practice these procedures.
For more information about hepatitis A, how contamination begins and how the disease is passed on, people can visit the health department’s website at www.mtyhd.org/hepA or the California Department of Public Health’s hepatitis A outbreak website at https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/Hepatitis-A-Outbreak.aspx.