Hep A Plague is Here | Urban Living
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Hep A Plague is Here

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A few weeks back, I wrote about the massive hepatitis A outbreak among the San Diego homeless population. It's so bad that a San Diego County public health officer declared a local public-health emergency. As of Oct. 31, they had reported 20 deaths attributed to the outbreak, and according to The San Diego Union Tribune, the number of cases is still on the rise. The crisis started in November 2016, and as of the end of October of this year, there are 536 confirmed cases of hepatitis A there.

The outbreak has arrived in Utah. We're now one of the three biggest hep A flare-up spots in the country. In September, the Salt Lake County Board of Health reported that there was an official outbreak, with 21 cases of the virus, which seem to have "mostly infected homeless people and recreational drug users," according to a Fox 13 report.

My wife volunteers at one of the local shelters and came down with some horrible viral yuck that sent her to the hospital twice for fluids. When she got better, she got hep A shot (though she didn't contract it, thank God). Upon starting back at her volunteer shift, she was surprised to find health officials at the shelter vaccinating staff and clients—anyone they could. One health worker said that they had been going to all the shelters and areas where the homeless camp to inform them about the outbreak and hopefully inoculate them. It's a lot harder to find the homeless in one area now that Operation Rio Grande caused them to scatter into surrounding communities.

The vaccination is free. The virus is most often spread by a person who did not wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. Shake the hand of a panhandler and you might receive a nasty "gift" back that can kill you. Share a needle or have unprotected sex with an infected person and you can get the bug. Ditto for eating food prepared by an infected person. However, you can't get it by sitting next to, hugging or being coughed on by an infected person. A baby can't get hepatitis A from breast milk, either. The infection causes liver disease and the symptoms include muscle soreness, upset stomach, fever, diarrhea and yellow eyes and skin. It apparently feels a lot like a really bad flu-until you see your eyes turn yellow.

To get an injection, contact your local health department. In Salt Lake County, call 385-468-4100; Davis County, 801-525-5000; Utah County, 801-851-7000.