County announces plan to address Hepatitis A outbreak

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The Los Angeles County of Public Health declared an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Los Angeles County after the two most recent cases of the disease were contracted locally.

Now, Public Health and county officials are working together to address the outbreak and implement a Hepatitis A prevention and response action plan following a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger that was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors today.

Barger’s motion hopes to prevent a larger outbreak, similar to what has occurred in San Diego County and Santa Cruz County.

“It is critical that the County and the Department of Public Health work proactively to educate the public about prevention and prepare for a potential outbreak,” Supervisor Barger said in a statement

It also requests that Public Health engage food truck commissaries and street-based food vendors in its efforts, and lists pharmacies that offer Hepatitis A vaccinations on its website.

So far, a total of 10 cases of Hepatitis A were reported among “high-risk individuals,” or those who are homeless or in institutions that serve the homeless, in Los Angeles County.

The first three cases of Hepatitis A were reported in mid-July by people who contracted the disease while in San Diego.  A fruit vendor in Lancaster was one of three found to have contracted the infection and officials are working on informing patrons of their need to get vaccinated.

Secondary cases of Hepatitis A occurred in a health care facility in Los Angeles County, and the two most-recent cases were acquired locally, according to the Department of Public Health.

Public Health officials said they have been proactively preparing for an outbreak for some time.

Officials sent out an advisory at the end of July though the Los Angeles Health Network and announced their plans to prevent an outbreak earlier this month.

Los Angeles County has between 30 and 60 cases of Hepatitis A each year, according to Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, the deputy director of the Department of Public Health’s Acute Communicable Disease Control.

An “outbreak” is defined as two or more cases that are linked by a common exposure within a month of each other, Schwartz told The Signal in September.

A majority of those infected with Hepatitis A are people who are homeless and/or use illicit drugs.

A person can get Hepatitis A, a viral liver infection, by coming into close contact with an infected person’s feces through contaminated food or objects.  It is spread when a person does not properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom or changing diapers.

Other modes of transmission include certain sexual practices, sharing equipment related to illicit drug use and consumption of food or water contaminated with the virus.

Individuals can prevent contracting Hepatitis A by getting vaccinated and by practicing good hygiene.

“Vaccination is the best protection against Hepatitis A,” said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, Interim Health Officer of Los Angeles County in a statement.  “With this in mind, our outreach teams and clinics are offering free vaccine to persons who are homeless, active drug users, and those who provide services and support to those individuals.”

To prevent Hepatitis A, the Department of Public Health recommends the following:

  • Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A
  • Don’t have sex with someone who has Hepatitis A infection
  • Use your own towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils
  • Don’t share food, drinks, or smokes with other people
  • Wash hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing, serving or eating food

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