Health officials are ramping up efforts to stop the spread of Hepatitis A in Los Angeles County as cases begin to surge among gay and bisexual men who are not homeless.
The surge is happening during the battle against the state’s massive outbreak, which has claimed 20 lives and has sickened more than 600 people, mostly in the homeless community. The outbreak started in San Diego and was reported in September.
Los Angeles County has seen 15 reported cases among those who are homeless or use recreational drugs since the outbreak began, the Los Angeles Times reported. But officials say an unrelated hepatitis A outbreak affecting the LGBT community has sickened 14 gay or bisexual men this year, compared with nine last year and one the year before.
The Los Angeles County Health Alert Network has advised medical providers to offer Hepatitis A vaccinations to men who have sex with men, as it is the best method for preventing the infection. Providers also have been advised to offer the vaccine to homeless people.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can spread easily through homeless populations because it thrives in unsanitary conditions and is primarily spread through contact with feces via surfaces or sexual contact.
Dr. Gil Chavez of the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Diseases said that adding hand-washing stations and bathrooms near homeless encampments could help fight the disease.
“I think there are two keys to preventing hepatitis A -one one being vaccination, and two being good access to sanitation,” Chavez said.
The state has vaccinated more than 80,000 at-risk people to try to fight the spread of the disease and Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency back in October due to the outbreak.
A report released in June found there are only nine public toilets available at night in the Skid Row neighborhood, where roughly 1,800 homeless people sleep at night.
The lack of toilets is worse than refugees in Syria are experiencing and violate the United Nations standards of hygiene, according to the “No Place to Go’’ report prepared by homeless advocacy groups, including the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Downtown Women’s Center.