Hepatitis A outbreak spreads beyond homeless community

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Hepatitis A is a microscopic killer that is very hard to kill. The virus can last weeks, even months, on a dry surface, according to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.

“The majority of infected individuals will not have symptoms, but few will have symptoms,” Dr. Tarek Hassanein, professor of medicine at UCSD, said.

San Diego County is in the midst of a Hepatitis A epidemic.

The virus is known to have sickened 421 people and killed 16 in San Diego County.

RELATED: Customers at San Diego restaurant may have been exposed to hepatitis A

The outbreak started with the homeless and drug using population.

Now it has spread to the general population, with nearly 50 documented cases of people becoming sick, who have no ties to homeless or drug users, according to the San Diego County Public Health Department.

Epidemiologists are still trying to find anything the people may have in common, but so far have not found any link.

Crews are power-washing sidewalks with a bleach solution in East Village downtown.

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Hepatitis A lives in the feces of infected people.

Many in the homeless community have no access to restrooms, going to the bathroom on the streets, in alleys and on sidewalks.

For that reason, it is possible to get Hepatitis A on the bottom of your shoes after just walking around and bringing it into your home.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, with San Diego County Public Health, recommends people remove their shoes before entering their homes. Not just because of Hepatitis A, but other pathogens as well. 

Most hand sanitizers will not kill Hepatitis A or norovirus, Wooten said.

She said the only type of hand sanitizers that kill Hepatitis A are the non-alcohol kind containing benzalkonium chloride. 

Preventing Hepatitis A:

  • Get both shots of the Hepatitis A (HAV) vaccine 
  • Do not have sex with someone who has it
  • Do not share towels, toothbrushes, eating utensils, food, drinks or cigarettes with other people who may have been exposed 

For more information call the County HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch ay (619) 293-4700.

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