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California Declares Emergency To Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak

Police officers remove a tent left by the homeless during efforts to sanitize neighborhoods to control the spread of hepatitis A, in San Diego., Sept. 25, 2017.
Associated Press
Police officers remove a tent left by the homeless during efforts to sanitize neighborhoods to control the spread of hepatitis A, in San Diego., Sept. 25, 2017.
California Declares Emergency To Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak
California Declares Emergency To Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak GUEST: Dr. Wilma Wooten, public health officer, San Diego County

The effort underway to vaccinate at risk populations in California against hepatitis A is draining the supply. It was confirmed on Friday when Jerry Brown release and emergency declaration on the subject. It allows California to buy vaccine directly from drug companies. San Diego county said that so far more than 60,000 vaccinations has been administered in our county alone. Joining me is Doctor Wilma Wooten , public health officer. Welcome to the program. Thank you. How much hepatitis A vaccine do you have on hand right now? We have private and public supplies of vaccine. I don't want to give out the actual number that we have but we are assessing the amount that is also in the community. We don't have a shortage, but we have limited supplies. I think that is the most important thing. Given the limited supply, we want to focus our efforts on vaccinating those individuals that are at risk. That is our primary goal until more vaccine is available. Do you have enough vaccine for 40,000 more vaccinations? We do have enough vaccines to vaccinate another 40,000 individuals, but we may need to vaccinate more than that depending upon how the outbreak is characterized and goes over the next several months. Our primary goal is to reach that immunity which is 80% of the target population. We've identified the target population of being anywhere from 200,000 and as low as 125,000 for a list of drug users as well as a home is population. Our goal is to try to vaccinate -- that we've chosen to land on in then target other at risk groups that aside from the homeless and the drug users so that we can ensure that we do have immunity and ensure that we don't have this outbreak extending into the general population as well. Outside of the target population that you speak of how confident are you that you will be able to vaccinate every one who wants one question mark We are not trying to vaccinate everyone not that wants one. We would be asking those individuals if they don't fall into the at risk or the at risk populations or the at risk professions that are working with services to the groups, we would be asking individuals in the general population that wants to get it, to wait until we would have a more ample supply available. What do you think that would be Sometime in the beginning of the new year. They are in high demand after Mayor Faulkner announced that paramedics and nurses have new authority to vaccinate at risk people. What will is the county playing in that effort? We are providing the training for those individuals and as the local emergency medical service agency, we are involved from that regard and we made the request to the state before it was included in the declaration of the state of emergency. Our staff providing the training for these paramedics so they can appropriately store and administer the vaccine. David Alvarez and Scott Peters have called for testing the San Diego river for evidence of the hepatitis A virus. Is there any evidence that tainted water near homeless encampment is contributing to the virus spread? There is no evidence. You would have to consume or drink the water. Being near the water would not give anybody hepatitis A Eco Is it infecting that San Diego river? There is no evidence of that. From May to August you reported 20 new cases per week and then recently you said it's about two or three per day. Two they would be 14 a week down from 20. I guess I'm asking are using evidence that the outbreak is slowing down? There is evidence that the numbers are decreasing but we need more than a one point in time. We did see a decrease from August to September. We can't put our entire hat on that to say that things are going in the right direction. That is a movement in the right direction but does not establish a trend. We would need to see the results for the month of October as well as November before we can say we are taking a downward trend with the outbreak. I've been speaking with Wilma Wooten, public health officer . Thank you. You are welcome.

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency to combat a hepatitis A outbreak that has claimed 18 lives in San Diego.

Brown said the federally-funded supply of vaccines is inadequate. His proclamation allows the state to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers and distribute them.

The declaration "allows us to move very swiftly," Dr. Gil Chavez, epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health, told reporters. He said the state would place an order Monday or Tuesday and supplies would reach the state soon after.


Special Coverage: San Diego's Hepatitis A Outbreak

California has distributed 81,000 federally-funded vaccine doses since the outbreak began and local jurisdictions have acquired more but the supply is insufficient, Chavez said.

California is experiencing the largest hepatitis A outbreak in the United States transmitted from person to person — instead of by contaminated food — since the vaccine became available in 1996. The state says the majority affected are homeless, using drugs or both.

There have been 576 cases throughout California, including 490 in San Diego County, 71 in Santa Cruz County and eight in Los Angeles County. Out of those, 386 people have been hospitalized, including 342 in San Diego, 33 in Santa Cruz and six in Los Angeles. No deaths have been reported outside San Diego County.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa on Friday called on the federal government to provide emergency funding to halt the spread of hepatitis A. He said the outbreak has brought statewide totals to three times the number of reported cases in 2015.


"We cannot wait until more communities are infected and impacted before taking action," the San Diego-area Republican wrote to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A message seeking comment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wasn't immediately returned.

RELATED: San Diego's Efforts To Tackle Hepatitis A Outbreak Now Include Firefighters

San Diego County reported an outbreak in March as it grapples with a growing homeless population. Santa Cruz County reported its first cases the following month, and San Diego and Los Angeles counties declared local health emergencies in September.

The outbreak was caused by strains of the 1B genetic subtype, which is rare in the United States and more commonly found in the Mediterranean and South Africa. It is spread through contact with feces, putting people with inadequate access to sanitation at highest risk.

In addition to vaccination, frequent handwashing is recommended.