The outbreak has infected nearly 400 people and left 15 dead.
The San Diego Board of Supervisors ratified the declaration of a public health emergency on Wednesday as a result of an ongoing outbreak of Hepatitis A, an infection that affects the liver.
A local public health emergency was first declared by officials on Sept. 1 and signed into law by Regional Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten to raise awareness and allow the Health and Human Services Agency to request state assistance if necessary, The San Diego Union Tribune reports. And on Sept. 6, the San Diego Board of Supervisors unanimously ratified the declaration and discussed new prevention efforts.
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According to the San Diego Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA), as of Sept. 5, 2017, the current outbreak has infected 398 people, causing 279 hospitalizations.
The San Diego HHSA wrote that the majority of the people who have been infected with the disease are either homeless or illicit drug users, and that the outbreak is being spread between people through contact with a "fecally contaminated environment" — i.e. when an uninfected or unvaccinated person ingests food or water, touches an object, or uses drugs contaminated with fecal matter from an infected person.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV).
The hepatitis A virus is one of several hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation and impaired functioning of the liver. According to the World Health Organization, Hepatitis A can cause mild to severe illness and most people recover with lifelong immunity. However, some people can develop acute liver failure, which is often fatal.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A include fever, diarrhea, nausea, dark-colored urine or feces, abdominal pain, and jaundice — but not everyone will have all of the symptoms. The severity of the disease and fatal outcomes are higher in older age groups, according to the WHO.
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It's usually spread through the ingestion of contaminated food or water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through the fecal-oral route but it can also spread between sex partners or through close physical contact with an infected person.
Because, according to the WHO, the disease is closely associated with poor personal hygiene, lack of hand-washing, and unsafe water or food sources, preventing it usually comes down to improved sanitation, food safety, and immunization.
There is a safe, effective vaccine that prevents against Hepatitis A which consists of two shots given six months apart.
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