Horrendous floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and a mass shooting — our country has seen a great deal of disaster in recent months.
According to Breitbart, a new tragedy has struck, forcing California to declare a state of emergency. At least 18 people have died, and 500 have been hospitalized due to a massive outbreak of hepatitis A in California.
The declaration came from Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) in an effort to mobilize to spread awareness to the threatened populace and to expedite access to the resources needed to combat the outbreak. Declaring a state of emergency enables healthcare officials across the state to buy larger quantities of the hepatitis A vaccine to immunize the public and prevent it from spreading.
According to the LA Times, most individuals are vaccinated during childhood, and already have an immunity to the disease. Unfortunately, many in the homeless community, as well as drug users, often do not have such immunities. It is among these individuals that the outbreak started last year.
Usually, hepatitis A is passed through contaminated food. An example of this occurred in 2003 in Pennsylvania, which was the worst outbreak the US has ever seen. 900 people were infected after eating onions that were contaminated in a restaurant.
But this outbreak is spreading from person-to-person within the homeless community. The unsanitary state many homeless live in day to day puts them at greater risk for Hepatitis A, because it thrives in such conditions.
What’s even more troubling with hepatitis A is that symptoms often don’t present themselves for some time, but it can be transmitted before they appear. This means people are often unaware that they have the virus and spread it to others unknowingly.
Hepatitis A is a particularly strong virus that can survive for some time, which, coupled with its highly contagious nature, makes halting the spread of hepatitis A very difficult.
The best way to keep hepatitis A from spreading is through sanitation. People keeping up with basic hygiene, the city sanitizing its streets, and businesses such as restaurants strictly adhering to the health code are effective deterrents. Unfortunately, these measures have little impact on the homeless population, who often struggle to uphold their hygiene and live in unsanitary conditions.
According to California’s Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Karen Smith, the best tool to fight hepatitis A’s spread among the homeless is through vaccination, “Vaccinating people at risk of exposure is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.”
Mercury News reports that Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) requested that the federal government provide funding to help prevent the outbreak, “We cannot wait until more communities are infected and impacted before taking action.”
The wildfires in California are wreaking havoc across the state. Will you pray for those losing their homes?
Epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Gil Chavez, assures that the virus is passed on through contact alone and that basic hygiene will prevent most cases of infection, stating, “You have to touch a surface that is contaminated. We always advise people that they should always practice good hand hygiene.”
Though hepatitis A is only lethal in extreme cases or for those with pre-existing liver problems, the outbreak is nevertheless a growing concern for the state of California. Hopefully, with the greater access to needed vaccinations, health officials can mobilize to prevent the outbreak from spreading further and begin alleviating the homeless community of this terrible disease.