S. California homeless Hep A outbreak spreading north

Hepatitis A outbreak in California draws concern here

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Health officials in Multnomah County are watching a deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A unfold on the streets and, predominantly, in the homeless camps of San Diego.

They’re also watching that outbreak move north.

“There is elevated risk right now,” said Amy Sullivan, Communicable Disease Services Director for Multnomah County.

That elevated risk came, said Sullivan, as the outbreak moved from San Diego County, where it’s infected roughly 500 people and killed 16, to Los Angeles, then to the Bay Area.

In all three cities, officials said homeless are the most impacted.

"Let us be clear, this outbreak is not from a contaminated food source. It is caused by person to person transmission,” said San Diego County’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas Yphantides.

Tuesday crews sprayed that city’s streets with a bleach-based solution to kill the virus.

Sullivan wanted to be clear: no cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in Multnomah County's homeless community.

But she pointed out communicable diseases have traveled up and down the I-5 corridor in the past.

On Wednesday, staff were ramping up efforts to increase access to vaccines for Portland’s homeless.

“It is a population that's very dynamic moving up and down the west coast, as well as other parts of the country,” said Sullivan. “So, we want to make sure that access is ongoing.”

In the case of Hep A, which is transmitted through contaminated fecal matter, patients require two shots over the course of at least six months for the vaccine to take effect.

Sullivan pointed out in Oregon, doctors can enroll patients on a “vaccination registry,” to help providers keep track of who has had their first or second dose.

She added vaccination programs could be up and running within a matter of weeks.

If current plans remain intact, they’d be provided at the County Health Department as well as a number of Portland nonprofits.

“I feel it's better safe than sorry. I would do it,” said Mark Johnson, who camps near the Burnside Bridge. “I'd like to see my grandkids one day.”

© 2017 KGW-TV


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