City washes streets in fight against hepatitis A

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SAN DIEGO -- The city of San Diego began washing down streets and sidewalks Monday in an effort to control an outbreak of hepatitis A that has killed at least 15 people and sickened around 400.

The city cleanup efforts began in the East Village with the street and sidewalk spraying effort. City crews removed belongings and debris from sidewalks and roadways to prepare for spraying with a formula that included bleach, according to broadcast reports.

Disinfecting streets in affected areas is one of the measures demanded by county health officials in a letter to the city last week. The other primary step, setting up dozens of hand-washing stations, has already been carried out.

Officials with the office of Mayor Kevin Faulconer told City News Service they were finalizing a contract for the service. Spraying could begin as soon as Monday, but an exact schedule hasn't been determined, they said.

The county, meanwhile, has been providing vaccinations to thousands of San Diegans, with 7,300 given to people considered to be at-risk of contracting the disease, which attacks the liver. Around 19,000 have been given out total.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer, said about two- thirds of the victims are homeless and/or users of illicit drugs. The hand- washing stations have been set up in areas where that population is prevalent, including downtown, Balboa Park and near the San Diego River.

Wooten said she expects the number of victims to increase because hepatitis A has a long incubation period. The toll of fatalities is of confirmed cases - - an additional death is suspected of being from the disease but has not been confirmed by laboratory testing.

A San Diego Councilwoman Monday called on the city to take stronger measures along the San Diego River against an outbreak of hepatitis A.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf made her comments on the same day that city crews began washing down streets and sidewalks. Zapf's district includes the beaches and the river mouth.

"This is an environmentally sensitive habitat for native animals and plants, and it's very worrisome that the staggering numbers of illegal encampments have overrun this very sensitive area, and it's an incubator for spreading the deadly disease," she said.

She called on her colleagues to use their powers to help remove red tape and get the city to clean up the river bed.

"I went down there myself in July and what I saw with my own eyes was an insane amount of trash," Zapf said. "I saw human feces, meth cookers, syringes, stolen property -- and all of this will flow right to the ocean if it is not cleaned up, and it will spread hepatitis A virus."

She said county health officials informed her that the virus can survive in the water for a few months.

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