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Death Toll Rises In San Diego Hepatitis A Outbreak

A hand washing station is set up outside the gates of the Neil Good Day Cente...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: A hand washing station is set up outside the gates of the Neil Good Day Center in the East Village to help combat a Hepatitis A outbreak, Sept. 11, 2017

The death toll in an outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego has reached 16, and 421 people have been sickened with the disease. That's based on today's report from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA).

The figures are associated with an outbreak that began last November and has struck the homeless population and users of illicit drugs particularly hard.

The statistics don't include patients who contracted hepatitis A, which attacks the liver, in a manner unrelated to the outbreak.

The new numbers were released the same day the city of San Diego began a pilot program to keep 14 public restrooms in Balboa Park open 24 hours a day. Under direction from county health, the city on Monday began washing down streets and sidewalks in the East Village with a bleach formula.

RELATED: San Diego Hepatitis A Outbreak Prompts City To Wash Streets, Sidewalks

Also, close to 40 hand-washing stations have been set up around the city, concentrated in areas where the homeless congregate.

On Wednesday, a proposal to declare an emergency in San Diego over the outbreak and a lack of shelter space is scheduled to go before the City Council's Select Committee on Homelessness.

Councilman David Alvarez suggested the declaration nearly two weeks ago, calling for immediate action because of the fatalities. In response, the office of Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the declaration was unnecessary, since the city was taking steps to combat the illness.

RELATED: Public Health Emergency Declared In San Diego County Over Hepatitis A Outbreak

County officials, meanwhile, are continuing a program of vaccinations, which are considered to be the best way to prevent hepatitis A. The disease is spread by contact with small, even microscopic amounts of infected feces and via sexual transmission.

More than 7,000 shots have been given to people considered to be at-risk of acquiring the disease, and over 19,000 shots given out in total, according to the HHSA.

In January's annual tally of the area's transient population, 5,619 homeless individuals were counted in the city of San Diego, a 10.3 percent increase from last year. Of those, 3,231 were living on the streets.

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