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SAN DIEGO — Communities around San Diego stepped up their efforts Sunday to help combat the spread of hepatitis A.

University Christian Church in Hillcrest along with the San Diego County Health Department hosted a breakfast and offered free vaccines Sunday to the homeless and parishioners. Dozens of people took part.

University Christian Church is in the heart of Hillcrest which is considered a major problem area for the epidemic.

“We knew we had to do something. There are so many people affected by this. We also hoped it would build community between our folks and the homeless folks,” said pastor Caleb Lines.

Health officials say immunizing at-risk populations is the best way to stop the spread of the disease, which attacks the liver. The outbreak has killed 18 people and sickened nearly 500 since last November, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

Around two-thirds of the cases have occurred among the homeless and/or drug users, according to the HHSA.

A flood of hepatitis A vaccinations are expected to make their way to San Diego after Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday to increase supply.

The San Diego outbreak was detected in March, and traced back to an origin in November, according to county health officials. A similar strain of the disease has been found in Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Cruz counties.