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LA County Health Officials Investigate Hepatitis Outbreak Among Homeless

Published on Monday, May 13, 2024 | 5:14 pm

Los Angeles County health officials announced Monday they are investigating an outbreak of five hepatitis A infections identified among the homeless since mid-March.

No specifics were provided on where the patients were identified, but health officials insisted the “current risk to the public is low.”

The hepatitis A virus is found in blood and stool of people who are infected, and homeless people tend to be at higher risk because they often have limited access to handwashing and toilet facilities, according to the Department of Public Health.

“Public Health is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to people experiencing homelessness in encampments and at interim housing sites where there is risk of potential exposure,” according to a statement from the department. “Hepatitis A vaccine is typically a two dose vaccine series that is safe and highly effective in preventing infection. Additionally, previously unvaccinated people can receive hepatitis A vaccine soon after exposure to protect against developing the infection.”

Health officials were also working with healthcare providers to ensure they are vigilant for possible new cases, and with organizations that provide services to the homeless.

Although risk to the public is low, health officials urged residents to check if they are vaccinated against hepatitis A, and contact a medical provider to determine if they should be. Residents were also urged to wash their hands with soap and water before eating, when preparing food and after using the bathroom.

“Symptoms of hepatitis include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine, or yellow eyes/skin,” health officials said. “Although rare, hepatitis A can cause death in some people. Hepatitis A is usually transmitted through eating contaminated food, or through close contact with a person while infectious and a person with the virus can transmit illness up to two weeks prior to the onset of symptoms.”

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