California was one of the first states in the nation to be hit with a huge hepatitis A outbreak, starting in September the state saw a huge spread of the preventable but potentially deadly disease. Now it seems they were just the beginning as similar outbreaks have begun popping up around the nation.
San Diego was the home of the original outbreak, hitting in fall of 2017 it came hard and swift. The city began washing streets that it believed were aiding to the spread with bleach and also began community initiatives to help spread the word about vaccinations that were available. Similar outbreaks have been popping up around the nation now, mostly in the homeless and drug using populations, but there seem to be few national headlines discussing the topic. In California alone it appears that from 2016 to 2017 there was a 48.7 percent spike in hepatitis A cases, a number that is unprecedented.
Hepatitis A is spread through contact with human feces as well as sexual transmission, and it is believed that the rise in the homeless population as well as the rise in illegal drug use has led to the uptick in the number of cases. Often times, homeless communities do not have access to public bathrooms, this leads to the rapid spread of the disease. In San Diego alone in the past year there were over 580 cases reported, 20 of those cases resulted in death. Not only are those numbers staggeringly high, but it has cost the San Diego County health department over $9.5 million. Michigan and Kansas are also seeing high numbers of hepatitis A cases being reported.
In the past, the United States saw an outbreak of hepatitis A from contaminated from strawberries in 2016 and another from pomegranate seeds in 2013. Europe has seen a surge in sexually transmitted hepatitis A recently, but the type that is popping up in the US, the type that is transmitted through fecal matter, is most often only seen in developing countries where the majority of the people do not have access to proper sanitation services. Cases like this haven’t been seen in the United States in the modern era until now.
It is important to note that hepatitis A can be spread as simply as touching a bathroom door handle after an infected person touched it then eating without washing your hands. Symptoms include nausea, yellow eyes and fatigue, but often these symptoms take weeks to appear. This illness can generally take a healthy person out of work or school for up to six or seven weeks as they recover. The good news is that there is a vaccine, which was approved in 1995, and is available to everyone. It is also required for school aged children before they begin public school. For more information on this topic, click here.