San Diego County health agency monitoring increase in hepatitis A cases
San Diego County is monitoring an increase in hepatitis A cases, with five recent confirmed cases and one death, health officials said Tuesday.
All the confirmed cases saw the onset of illness between Jan. 10 and Feb. 6., according to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. Three of the cases were among people experiencing homelessness, including the person who died.
According to the HHSA, there are "no known direct contacts and the five cases do not meet the definition of an outbreak as the county normally sees two to three cases per month."
"As a long-time health care advocate, I understand the importance of being out in front and transparent with the public about potential threats to the public health," Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas said. "The disease is 100% preventable, and we want to ensure everyone living in our communities, including people experiencing homelessness, have the information they need to live a healthy and safe life."
Officials are cautious about the illness, just a few years after a deadly outbreak of hepatitis A infected 592 people and killed 20 from late 2016 through October 2018. The following year, an audit by then-State Auditor Elaine Howle found that the county could have and should have "reduced the risk of the spread of hepatitis A last year with better organization and hastened vaccination efforts,"
Hepatitis A is usually transmitted by touching objects or eating food that someone with the virus has handled or by having sex with an infected person. The disease doesn't always cause symptoms but can cause fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, dark urine, pale stools and diarrhea, according to the HHSA.
"The city is working closely with the county of San Diego to monitor the situation and facilitate vaccinations at our shelters," Mayor Todd Gloria said. "During the past year and a half, our collaboration and early action prevented the spread of both shigellosis and monkeypox, and we're taking that same proactive approach in this case to ensure the safety of all San Diegans."
None of the infected individuals had a hepatitis A vaccination on record. Vaccinations were given Monday at a homeless shelter with an identified case, with 50 residents accepting vaccinations.
"While the investigations continue, we are asking health care professionals to be alert for patients who may show signs of hepatitis A," said Dr. Ankita Kadakia, deputy public health officer for the county. "Early identification of contacts and isolation are keys to prevention, as is the vaccination of at-risk populations."
According to a statement released Monday evening, the county is also communicating with those who work with the homeless population and will work with all agencies and providers on sanitation and prevention strategies, including vaccinations, while the investigation continues.
The most recent increase in hepatitis A cases among San Diego County residents occurred in early 2022 and was part of a national outbreak associated with organic strawberry consumption.