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East County News Service

October 24, 2017 (San Diego) — County Supervisors voted Tuesday to again extend the public health emergency declaration over Hepatitis A for two more weeks.  As of Oct. 18, 516 cases have been diagnosed, including 19 fatalities.

An article in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Oct. 12 revealed that no testing has been done for Hepatitis A in the San Diego River or its tributaries, even though  flood of human feces were found in the river last winter and hepatitis A is spread primarily through fecal contact. A memo from county health officials stated that four cases of Hepatitis A including one death have been “linked to the San Diego River Valley.” The virus can remain active in water for weeks or even months, the memo to Councilmember Lori Zapf stated.

Despite those facts, Supervisors have opted against testing the water for Hepatitis, after seeking input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  A letter from the CDC recommends against testing the San Diego River or any body of water for waterborne hepatitis A virus because there has not been a documented waterborne hepatitis A outbreak in over 30 years. The letter cited the “futility of environmental sampling” during a person-to-person outbreak such as San Diego’s.

“There is no evidence that either water or environmental sampling provides additional information for addressing person-to-person HAV transmission,” said John Ward, CDC director of viral hepatitis wrote in the letter. “Thus, investing in these activities would unnecessarily divert resources that are needed to contain the outbreak in proven and effective ways,” such as vaccination, education, more public restrooms and improved hygiene such as frequent hand-washings.

The County and community partners have given nearly 84,000 hepatitis A vaccinations, including 70,748 to the at-risk population, which includes homeless individuals, illicit drug users, people with chronic liver disease, law enforcement and emergency personnel, people who work with homeless or treatment programs, food handlers, and men who have sex with men.

For general information on hepatitis A, visit the HHSA hepatitis website where data are updated routinely. A hepatitis A fact sheet is also available.

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