Report: Hepatitis outbreak exposed need for more public restrooms

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SAN DIEGO -- A San Diego County grand jury report released Thursday identified "a number of shortcomings" in the region's response to health emergencies such as the recent hepatitis A outbreak, and the report highlighted a shortage of public restrooms as a key issue.

Read the complete Grand Jury Report

San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward told FOX 5 that even though new bathrooms will cost precious funds, they're crucial to protecting public health.

"Building new restrooms will be costly overtime, but it is something we need to elevate on the priority matrix," Ward said Friday.

Health officials say a lack of public restrooms contribute to unsanitary conditions among the homeless population, which can help aid the spread of disease.

Twenty people died and upwards of 600 people contracted the highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus during last year's outbreak, which was first identified in March and lasted into the beginning of this year.

It was the largest hepatitis A outbreak the U.S. had seen in 25 years -- centered in the city's growing homeless population and spreading because of the lack of access to basic sanitation, health officials said.

County reports going back decades have suggested more public restrooms in areas of San Diego with significant homeless populations.

Now Ward says City Council has started an internal review of health emergency preparedness, with public restrooms among his top priorities for discussion.

“We never want to get into a situation that causes a similar public health outbreak again," said Ward.

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