Hepatitis A emergency declaration extended

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SAN DIEGO — The County Board of Supervisors Tuesday extended an emergency declaration over the hepatitis A outbreak, which officials expect may be lifted by February amid a declining number of cases.

County health officials Tuesday reported a total of 571 hepatitis A cases linked to the outbreak, the start of which was traced back to about one year ago. That’s four more cases than cited in a report issued Dec. 5.

The rate of newly reported infections has slowed to about two or three per week, a figure that has declined since the outbreak peaked in the first week of September, said Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s deputy public health officer.

There have been no additional deaths reported since the end of October. Of those sickened by the disease, which attacks the liver, 20 have died in the last year.

The county should begin to consider what the “status quo” looks like moving forward and consider lifting the emergency declaration at the end of January, county Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer said.

The county has administered over 113,000 vaccinations. Despite that and the declining number of cases, it’s important that at-risk populations continue to be vaccinated and the county continues its prevention and education efforts, public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said.

“What we can say confidently is, the recommended populations that should be vaccinated, many of them are not,” she said.

People at a higher risk of contracting the disease include users of illicit drugs and men who have sex with men. The LGBT population has not been hit hard by the outbreak here, but there have been cases in that group as part of an outbreak in Michigan.

Hepatitis A is usually transmitted by touching objects or eating food that someone with the virus has handled or by having sex with an infected person. The disease doesn’t always cause symptoms but can cause fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, dark urine, pale stools and diarrhea, according to the HHSA.