Vaccinations best way to prevent hepatitis A outbreak among local homeless population – Orange County Register

An outbreak of hepatitis A that has led to the deaths of more than a dozen homeless people in San Diego County and multiple hospitalizations there and in Santa Cruz County has local health officials keeping a close watch on homeless people in Orange County.

They also are offering vaccinations to the potentially high-risk population.

But so far, only one case of a homeless person here developing hepatitis A in connection to the San Diego outbreak that began in November has been reported by the Orange County Health Care Agency. That unidentified person developed the disease, a viral infection that affects the liver, after spending time in San Diego, according to a July 26 advisory issued by the agency.

The affected person had a history of homelessness, but had not stayed at any Orange County shelters and had “no known exposure to homeless populations here,” the advisory said.

“However,” the advisory cautioned, “with the ongoing San Diego and Santa Cruz outbreaks, additional cases such as this are likely to occur.”

Here’s information on hepatitis A, some background on the alert set off by the spread of the disease in San Diego and how health officials have been responding.

Q. What is hepatitis A?

A. Hepatitis A is part of a family of viral infections affecting the liver. Other common types are hepatitis B and hepatitis C – each caused by a different virus. Hepatitis A is not a chronic condition and people can improve without treatment, but severity can range from a mild illness that lasts a few weeks, to a serious condition that can last for months and can be fatal.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. Someone with hepatitis A may experience symptoms that include fever, loss of appetite, yellow skin or eyes (jaundice), abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, joint pain, and a rash. Symptoms usually appear from two to six weeks after exposure and can last from two to six months.

Q. How is hepatitis A spread?

A. The virus can be transmitted by person-to-person contact when an infected person does not wash his hands properly after using the bathroom and touches objects, food, or drinks that become contaminated by feces or stool.

Q. What’s been the worst of the outbreak in California?

A. Ongoing spread of the disease in San Diego County since November primarily has been through person-to-person contact affecting homeless people and illicit drug users. In early September, the toll had reached about 380 cases, with at least 15 deaths and more…

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