Viewpoint: What we should take away from California's hepatitis A outbreak

California's ongoing hepatitis A outbreak may be indicative of future outbreaks to come, according to Adam Rogers, articles editor for Wired magazine.

 

In an article published Monday in Wired, Mr. Rogers highlighted the importance of caring for an area's homeless population to manage the spread of hepatitis A. He cited the hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County, which has sickened 546 people and caused 20 deaths. The outbreak has spread to Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, resulting in several dozen additional cases. Illnesses have primarily occurred among the homeless and illicit drug using populations.

In response to the outbreak, San Diego County officials declared a public health emergency on Sept. 1. Efforts taken by the county to curb the spread of the virus include washing city streets with bleach and conducting vaccination campaigns among the county's growing homeless population. However, some have described efforts as being delayed, and city and county officials have squabbled over which entity is most responsible for the stalled response.

"When the urban infrastructure shows signs of weakness, as it has with these [hepatitis] A outbreaks, it's not just a medical tragedy. It's a signal of a failure yet to come," wrote Mr. Rogers in the Wired article. "If social policy doesn't deal with America's ongoing social and political homelessness crisis, it's going to be an even worse public health problem later — for everyone … When people lose access to the last century's worth of improvements to services and healthcare, they're more likely to get sick. And the next outbreak might not be something people can vaccinate against."

Hepatitis A is a virus that adversely affects the liver and can be transmitted via shared needles and oral contact with fecal matter from an infected person.

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