Imagine being told that there are several fires in the city, but not the location of the fires. That’s the situation that the City of Escondido faces in finding out details about the Hepatitis A outbreak that includes 12 local cases.
William Wolfe, the city’s deputy city manager, has been put in charge of the city’s response to the outbreak. The Times-Advocate asked Wolfe how many Escondido cases have been identified and what might have been the circumstances involved? Were the cases widespread, or confined to a particular area. Were many homeless people or school students involved?
Wolfe said the city has the same questions, but so far hasn’t been able to get them answered. “You raise excellent questions regarding the specifics of Hepatitis A cases from Escondido. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are twelve documented cases from Escondido. I have requested further information regarding the specifics of those cases such as when reported, status of the person such as homeless, drug abuser, or other incidental contact, severity of the case, and geographical location of those contracting. To date, I have been told the information is not available at this time, but they are working on gathering the information. As soon as I receive the information I will be sure to share it in our city website.” He also promised to share the information with the newspaper.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, the County director of public health services, declared a public health emergency for San Diego County on September 1.
Hepatitis A is a contagious virus often spread person to person, and can result in severe cases of liver disease, serious illness, and even death, although it is far more common to result in an illness of a few weeks to several months.
This disease is spread by the ingestion of microscopic amounts of fecal matter via close person-to-person contact, eating food or touching objects handled by an infected person, and use of recreational drugs whether injected or not.
The average incubation period is 28 days, and the virus can live outside of the body for months, depending on environmental conditions.
Thorough cleaning and chlorination is effective, and the most effective method is a two dose injection series.
Statistics regarding the outbreak in San Diego County: Between 11/22/16- 09/14/17 there were 444 confirmed cases reported. This has resulted in 305 (69%) hospitalizations and 17 deaths (3.6%) 152 (34%) homeless / illicit drug use.
Wolfe added, “Although this may seem a bit frightening and daunting, you should know that since 1994 there have been five previous years in which we have had an outbreak of cases exceeding 400 in San Diego County. Although we are proceeding cautiously to maximize the safety of our citizens and city employees, I am confident that the City of Escondido is taking appropriate measures, including enhanced proactive measures, to minimize the risk to all.”
Wolfe said the city’s plan focuses on three strategies:
• Vaccinate: Currently, The San Diego County Health and Human Services nurses are regularly partnering with Escondido Police officers to mobilize, contact and offer vaccinations to members of our homeless community.
“To date, we have vaccinated over 100 persons,” said Wolfe. “Additionally, we are requiring vaccinations of our employees who operate in an area of higher risk for infection, and are encouraging any employee that is interested in receiving the vaccination series to contact their Primary Health Care Provider for an appointment.”
• Sanitize: City staff is working closely with County Health and Human Services and is exceeding the County’s protocol for sanitization of our permanent restrooms/hand washing facilities.
• Educate. Said Wolfe, “We are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide educational materials to our local businesses and their employees. As you can see, several steps are in place to efficiently and safely combat this latest outbreak of Hepatitis A. With the cooperation of our employees, our citizens, and our friends at Health and Human Services, we are confident that this will soon be under control and virtually eliminated.”