Department of Public Health fights to prevent Hepatitis A outbreak

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Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health is actively looking to prevent a Hepatitis A outbreak.

After the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the department will report back in two weeks to share their efforts to prevent Hepatitis A from spreading across the county, strategies for education and awareness and plans to handle an outbreak if it occurs.

L.A. County has confirmed three Hepatitis A cases since mid-July from people who contracted it in San Diego County where there is currently an outbreak.

“Supervisor Barger’s goal is to prevent something like what has happened in San Diego,” Barger’s Communications Deputy Tony Bell said.

A fruit vendor in Lancaster was one of the three found to have contracted the infection on Sept. 1 and had spent time in San Diego prior to getting Hep A.

Most cases in San Diego County occurred among people who are homeless or used drugs or with service providers who work with these populations.

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.

“We are very concerned that this may spread to Los Angeles County,” Schwartz said.  “We are really taking a number of actions that will reduce the risk.”

The virus is most often spread between individuals who are homeless, use drugs, travel to countries where Hep A is prominent or are homosexual men, Schwartz said.

Public Health sent out a health advisory at the end of July through the Los Angeles Health Alert Network to bring awareness in hopes of preventing an outbreak from starting.

Currently, there is not considered to be an outbreak in Los Angeles County, according to the Department of Public Health. Schwartz defines an “outbreak” as two or more cases that are linked by a common exposure within a month of each other.

“However, it is important that the county proactively educate the community on ways to prevent Hepatitis A infection and have a response plan in the event that the county does see an increase in Hepatitis A cases,” a statement from Barger’s office said.

Los Angeles County last saw a large outbreak of Hepatitis A in 2005, according to Schwartz.

Hepatitis A is a viral liver infection transmitted by close personal and fecal exposure, mostly through food or water.

It is the rarest form of Hepatitis, as there are about 20,000 cases in the United States a year, compared to 200,000 for both Hepatitis B and C, according to Mayo Clinic.

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

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