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San Diego Officially Declares An End to Hepatitis A Outbreak

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After two years, the deadly outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego has officially come to a close, according to Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer. The virus ravaged San Diego’s homeless population, sickening close to 600, and killing 20.

“Last Thursday, it was officially 100 days since the most-recent case, and, for hepatitis A, that’s the threshold we use that allows us to say it no longer meets the definition of an outbreak,” Wooten said.

The outbreak was first detected in 2017 of last year, but health officials suspect the first case likely happened in November 2016. By mid-2017, there had already been hundreds of confirmed cases and nearly a dozen deaths, sparking a public outcry and inciting health officials to declare a public health crisis. Much of the public concern stemmed from the unsanitary living conditions of the homeless population, which lacked proper facilities for supporting proper hygiene and sanitation.

A public campaign was launched to promote the installation of street-washing and sanitation stations, including portable toilets and hand-washing stations. Temporary shelters were erected which housed nearly 700 people at a time. After years of neglect, increased attention to San Diego’s homeless population is what helped city health officials beat back the hepatitis A outbreak.

While this health crisis cost the city of San Diego nearly $12 million, it comes at a time when the homeless population was reaching a breaking point where disease and unsanitary conditions were reaching critical mass. Nationwide hepatitis A cases surpassed 8,000, but San Diego accounted for more than a quarter of the total deaths caused by the disease. However, thanks to this outbreak receiving national attention coupled with the city of San Diego’s willingness to spend the money necessary to develop sturdier health infrastructure, there have been only 15 new cases in 2018.

Now, San Diego is faced with the obstacle of sustaining the hard work it has put in to eliminate hepatitis A. It has become clear that solely relying on vaccination is just not enough to avoid the next public health crisis.

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