Governor Brown Declares State Of Emergency Over California's Hepatitis A Outbreak

Homeless individuals in downtown San Diego. (Photo by Nathan Rupert via the Creative Commons on Flickr)

On Friday afternoon, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency regarding a hepatitis A outbreak that has thus far killed at least 18 people in the state. The emergency proclamation will allow the state to increase its supply of vaccines for the highly contagious virus.

Declaring a state of emergency gives the California Department of Public Health the authority to immediately purchase vaccines directly from manufacturers and distribute them to impacted communities, according to a statement from Governor Brown's office.

San Diego has been dealing with a deadly outbreak of the virus for more than six months. The outbreak was first identified in March, and officials declared a public health emergency in the area in early September. An outbreak was officially declared in Los Angeles County on September 19, with 10 cases reported in L.A. county, two of which were "locally acquired," and couldn't be traced back to either San Diego County or Santa Cruz, which has also experienced an outbreak. There are now 12 reported cases of hepatitis A in L.A. County, according to the L.A. Times.

Hepatitis A is transmitted through feces, typically when the virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person, according to the CDC. Rates of the virus in the U.S. have fallen by 95% since a hepatitis A vaccine first became available in 1995. Most people who contract the infection recover completely. However, those who already have a weakened immune system or other health issues can suffer permanent liver damage.

As noted at the L.A. Times, hepatitis A is typically spread through contaminated food, often with outbreaks centered around a single restaurant. California's outbreak, however, has largely been spread person-to-person, primarily within the state's homeless population. Vaccinating at-risk populations and improving sanitation "are the most effective ways to stop the person-to-person spread of the hepatitis A virus," according to the emergency proclamation.