California’s governor has declared a state of emergency Friday due to a lack of vaccines for a deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A in several counties.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration allows the state to “increase its supply of hepatitis A vaccines in order to control the current outbreak,” a statement read, CBS News reports.
Hundreds of cases of the deadly disease have been reported around the state, but most of them in the San Diego area. Immunizations from the federal vaccine program have been distributed to at-risk communities in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz counties.
The declaration allows the state to immediately purchase more vaccines to spread to affected communities.
This is the largest outbreak of disease – which is transmitted from person to person – since the vaccine became available more than 20 years ago. 576 cases have been reported so far.
Most of the cases are among the homeless or drug users, but there are several cases where people working at hospitals and health clinics have been affected, CBS reported.
Anyone working with people in those high-risk communities is urged to contact authorities and get vaccinated. The declaration also calls for food-service workers and shelter employees to get vaccinated.
The statewide declaration comes on the heels of a similar declaration from San Diego County officials.
The disease has killed 16 people so far and hospitalized more than 300. Most of those affected have been homeless.
In Santa Cruz County, at least 69 people have been diagnosed with hepatitis A amid a smaller outbreak that broke out in April, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
“The reason we’re particularly concerned (now) is because we have an outbreak in San Diego and we have an outbreak in Santa Cruz, and the contagion is in a population not easily contained,” said Dr. Sharon Balter, the chief of the department’s communicable disease control program.
Normally, the county sees about 40 to 60 cases in an entire year – most of them found in the food-service industry. But homeless people are much more difficult to track and schedule follow-up visits with to prevent the disease from spreading.
Meanwhile, as the crisis in unfolding, it turns out that there is nobody monitoring San Diego’s surface water for hepatitis A, where the homeless can set up encampments. Even a tiny particle of feces – when ingested – can infect someone.
The EPA responded last week, writing in a letter obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune that the agency had reached out to area water researchers and determined no one was testing for the disease in San Diego’s surface water.
The letter, signed by acting EPA Regional Administrator Alexis Strauss, called for expanded efforts to stanch the flow of potentially disease-carrying human waste into city rivers, creeks and other waterways.
“It is clear municipal efforts must be broadened to reduce the many different sources of human fecal matter from homeless individual and group encampments in roadside rights-of-way, storm drains, beach parking lots and river bottoms,” Strauss wrote in her Oct. 6 letter to Peters. “People living in recreational vehicles can also be a source of illegal human waste dumping, lacking access to low-cost pump-out options. These sources of human fecal matter are confirmed in water-quality data submitted to the Regional Water Quality Control Boards along the Southern California coast.”