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Home / News / Health / Hepatitis A outbreak prompts LA County health warning

Hepatitis A outbreak prompts LA County health warning

by Staff
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Los Angeles County health officials have identified five cases of hepatitis A among the homeless population, the Department of Public Health announced Monday.

The first case in the outbreak was identified in mid-March, officials said.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection that can spread from person-to-person even before they feel sick, according to the county health department. The cause of the liver infection is the hepatitis A virus, which is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected.

Unhoused people have a higher risk of contracting the virus because they often have limited access to hand-washing and restroom facilities, according to the Department of Public Health, which provides free hepatitis A vaccines to people living in homeless encampments and at interim housing sites where there is risk of virus exposure.

The vaccine is typically a two-dose series of shots that that health department said “is safe and highly effective in preventing infection,” adding that unvaccinated people can receive the vaccine soon after exposure to help prevent the infection from developing.

Health officials “continue to monitor for and immediately investigate suspect hepatitis A cases,” according to the county’s announcement. “Public Health is working closely with healthcare providers to request that they remain vigilant for hepatitis A. Public Health is also working with organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness to educate the community about the increase in hepatitis A, encourage people with symptoms … (to) seek medical care, and to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.” 

While the risk of infection to the public is low, Public Health recommended the following actions to help prevent the disease from spreading:

  • “Check if you have been vaccinated for hepatitis A. If you haven’t, contact your medical provider to determine if you should be vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis A.
  • “Wash your hands with soap and water before eating and preparing food and after using the bathroom.”

The disease ranges from a mild illness of just a few weeks to a severe medical condition lasting several months, officials said. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine or yellow eyes and skin.

“Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death in some people,” according to the county. “Hepatitis A is usually transmitted through eating contaminated food, or through close contact with a person while infectious and a person with the virus can transmit illness up to two weeks prior to the onset of symptoms.”

Areas with limited access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services are at an especially high risk for disease outbreaks.

Information on hepatitis A and vaccination locations is on the internet at publichealth.lacounty.gov.

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