City leaders launch effort to stop spread of deadly hepatitis A

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego city and county officials launched a new effort Tuesday to further educate the public about hepatitis A vaccinations and sanitary precautions.

County-led health teams have been mobilized since March to deal with the outbreak that has killed 16 people and infected about 400 others. County Supervisor Ron Roberts said sanitation and education efforts are being bolstered.

The most effective way to fight the contagious liver disease is by vaccinating at-risk populations, according to health officials. Most cases to date have been identified in patients who are homeless or drug users, but include workers at a health care facility working with those patients.

"This is our community and we are working day and night to take care of it," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. "It is going to require a sustained effort and everyone in San Diego County has a role to play."

In the past several months, county officials have made vaccines available free to the public, including those in homeless encampments and other hepatitis A hot spots. Officials said more than 22,000 people have been vaccinated so far. To continue the momentum in battling the virus, the city of San Diego has partnered with the county to provide free vaccinations at public libraries through December.

At the Downtown Central Library Tuesday, hundreds lined up to get a free shot.

"It's a really good deal. I had asked my doctor about the shot and I was told it would be about $100," said Douglas Hulbert.

Hulbert said he wanted the extra protection because he often volunteers with helping the homeless.

"People I’ve been working with told me you should get an immunization," said Hulbert.

"I live downtown and so I’m exposed, so I’m very happy," said Lynn Jeppson, a resident.

Jeppson said she was happy to see the city and county taking a proactive step to stop the spread of disease.

"I’m not worried, but I do want protection I feel much better," said Jeppson.

"We had a really good turnout. We went through the complete supply of the county’s vaccines," said Jenny Mehlow, spokesperson for the City of San Diego.

Mehlow said a total of 300 vaccinations were administered at the first clinic Tuesday. County nurses actually had to close early because they ran out of vaccines.

"Hep A is getting a lot more attention and so we were prepared to have as many people as we had," said Mehlow.

The attention has also reached beyond the city limits. The San Diego Tourism Authority said it's received a handful of inquiries about the outbreak and some tour groups have even canceled trips to San Diego.

Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the tourism authority, released the following statement to FOX 5 Tuesday:

"The health and safety of visitors to San Diego is the highest priority for the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA), our partners and the local tourism industry. As such, the San Diego Tourism Authority is committed to providing travelers with current, accurate information about traveling to the region safely.

"We are working to assure concerned potential visitors that it is very safe to travel to San Diego. The Hepatitis A outbreak is primarily affecting a very defined, at-risk population of homeless and illicit drug users which County of San Diego officials have been working to vaccinate.

"We have a dedicated page with information for visitors at sandiego.org/hepatitis. For visitors with specific questions about Hepatitis A, we will refer them to the County of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency for complete resources."

Other sanitation measures by the city have included the installment of 41 hand-washing stations and a new 24-hour restroom facility in the downtown area, where homeless people tend to congregate. Currently, there are 21 public restrooms downtown. The operating hours of 14 restrooms in Balboa Park have also been expanded to 24 hours a day, and city streets are being power-washed and bleached on a regular basis.

Free vaccination clinics at public libraries will be offered through December:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 19 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 20 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd.
  • Monday, Sept. 25 – 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Logan Heights Branch Library, 567 S. 28th
  • Tuesday, Sept. 26 – Noon to 2 p.m. – Skyline Hills Library, 7900 Paradise Valley Rd.
  • Friday, Sept. 29 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library, 5148 Market St.
  • Monday, Oct. 9 – 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Logan Heights Branch Library, 567 S. 28th
  • Tuesday, Oct. 17 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd.
  • Friday, Oct. 20 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library, 5148 Market St.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 21 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 19 – 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd.

Health officials in Los Angeles County said Tuesday that they are also dealing with their own hepatitis A outbreak.