Hep A Coming Our Way | Urban Living
Support the Free Press.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters.
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984.
Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

Hep A Coming Our Way



I recently returned from a trip to California where I learned that San Diego is experiencing a horrible Hepatitis A outbreak. State officials have declared a public health emergency. As of Oct. 24, there've been 516 reported cases, 19 deaths and 357 hospitalizations. Sixteen of the 19 dead were men, 13 were homeless and four were drug users, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. That is insane. How's it happening?

Hep A is spread basically from person to person, when people don't wash their hands or eat food that an infected person has handled. And, of course, you can also get it by having sex with someone carrying the virus. It can be symptom-less or horrible, depending on your personal physiology. Symptoms can include jaundice (yellow eyes), black urine, pale stool, diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue. There just aren't enough clean public restrooms and hand washing stations to serve the wandering population of transients. Authorities said on the news that most homeless have not been educated to get a preventative vaccine.

After a recent uptick in Hep A cases among the Salt Lake City homeless, and now that Operation Rio Grande has scattered them all over the city, it's possible this epidemic could spread here. As a business owner downtown, I don't let anyone off the street use our restrooms. The one time I allowed a woman in our washroom, my entire staff got diarrhea.

The first patient known to be part of the outbreak in San Diego was a homeless person who received medical treatment in November 2016—about four months before the outbreak began. The creepy part is that genetic testing by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 13 strains of the Hep A virus from patients there. San Diego County responded last month by setting up a fenced-in "homeless camp" of donated tents where transients could drop their belongings during the day and have access to clean Porta-Potties and hand washing facilities by night. My mom tells me now that news outlets say the homeless are complaining that their new campground is rife with theft.

The Salt Lake County Health Department has been offering vaccines to at-risk populations since late August, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, but more might be needed. San Diego County has already administered 42,000 vaccinations since the outbreak started according to health officials there.