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County Officials Declare Hepatitis A Outbreak In Los Angeles

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A homeless encampment in Los Angeles. The Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego has largely affected the city's homeless population. (Photo by cyna79 via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Los Angeles County now has its own hepatitis A outbreak, with 10 cases reported in the county—two of which were "locally acquired," and cannot be traced to either San Diego County or Santa Cruz.

L.A. Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer declared that the county was experiencing "a hepatitis A outbreak ... as of this morning" during the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, according to City News Service.

Five of the 10 cases that have been reported in Los Angeles County can be traced directly back to the outbreaks in either San Diego or Santa Cruz, according to Ferrer. Ferrer also said that three of the 10 cases were acquired in a facility where one of those 10 individuals was receiving treatment. "The two new cases are locally acquired. We don't see any relationships with folks in either San Diego or Santa Cruz, to our knowledge," Ferrer explained.

Most of the cases to date have been identified in patients who are either homeless or drug users, but also include workers at a health care facility working with those patients, according to Ferrer. The Daily News reports that Ferrer also urged individuals at a high risk of contracting the disease, such as health care providers, food-service workers and shelter employees, to get vaccinated.

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San Diego has been dealing with a deadly outbreak of the highly contagious virus, with officials declaring a public health emergency in the area earlier this month. Hundreds have fallen ill and sixteen people have died of hepatitis A in San Diego in what the L.A Times describes as the nation's second-largest outbreak of the virus in decades. The outbreak was first identified in March and has largely affected the city's homeless population, according to NPR.

Santa Cruz has also been dealing with a smaller outbreak that began in their county jail in April, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

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 (or stool) 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. Children have been routinely vaccinated for hepatitis A since 1999, but many adults are not protected, according to City News Service.

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Most people who contract the liver infection recover completely. However, those who already have a weakened immune system or other health issues can suffer permanent liver damage.

ABC 7 reports that the County Department of Public Health has been working with L.A.'s homeless populations throughout the summer to educate and vaccinate people from the disease.