Hepatitis A outbreak causes fourth death in San Diego

SAN DIEGO – A hepatitis A outbreak in the San Diego area has claimed the life of a fourth person, county health officials reported Monday.

So far, the outbreak has sickened 160 people, with 120 requiring hospitalization, and has mostly affected the homeless population and/or users of illegal drugs, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency. Some have been stricken while incarcerated.

No information was provided on the latest fatality.

“We strongly encourage people who are at risk to check with their healthcare providers and get vaccinated for hepatitis A,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer. “The two best ways to prevent hepatitis A are vaccination and good hand hygiene, which means washing your hands after using a restroom and before preparing or eating meals.”

County health officials have been working with homeless services providers, community health clinics, faith-based community organizations, substance abuse treatment providers, hospital emergency departments, jails and probation facilities to conduct vaccination clinics for people who are at risk of catching the illness.

No common food, drink or drug source has been identified as the cause.

County health officials said it could take up to nearly two months after exposure to develop symptoms. The disease can be prevented if someone gets immunized within two weeks of exposure, the HHSA said.

The disease is spread via contaminated food or water, sexual contact or sharing drug paraphernalia.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include yellowing of the skin and eyes, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools.

Symptoms usually appear over several days and last less than two months. However, some people can be ill for as long as six months. Hepatitis A can sometimes cause liver failure and death, according to the HHSA.