Skip to main content

Expert: Could Be Some Time Before San Diego Hep A Outbreak Peaks

A patient receives a hepatitis A vaccination at a public clinic in downtown S...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: A patient receives a hepatitis A vaccination at a public clinic in downtown San Diego, Sept. 22, 2017.

At least 461 people in San Diego have become infected with hepatitis A. And despite a mass vaccination campaign, the number of cases continues to grow.

Of the 315 people who have been hospitalized in the outbreak, 115 have been treated at UC San Diego Health.

RELATED: Death Toll Reaches 17 In San Diego’s Ongoing Hepatitis A Outbreak

Dr. Robert Schooley, professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at UCSD, said one characteristic of the virus is hampering efforts to control it: the incubation period is up to 50 days.

"So, if somebody came from outer space and vaccinated everyone in San Diego today, we would still be seeing new cases almost to Christmas time," Schooley explained. "So, we have to be honest on how long it takes for the interventions that have occurred to be able to show a bending of the curve.”

These interventions have included the installation of toilets and washing stations downtown and the pressure washing of streets with bleach. They have targeted the homeless, the group that has been hardest hit by the hepatitis outbreak.

RELATED: New Restrooms Installed In Downtown San Diego In Effort To Stop Hepatitis A Outbreak

Schooley said it is crucial to expand the vaccination campaign to groups that interact with the homeless, including intravenous drug users.

He said it is like a water tanker flying over a forest fire.

“When you get enough water over the system, the flames stop spreading, and that’s what the vaccination effort is about," Schooley said.

Schooley said when we see a decline in the number of new infections from one week to the next, we will know the outbreak has peaked.

We have not seen that yet.

A prominent infectious disease specialist says a particular feature of the hepatitis A virus is hampering efforts to control the outbreak.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.