A Hepatitis A outbreak has killed 16 people in the southern California city of San Diego. In order to combat the disease, the city has literally begun spraying the streets with bleach.
An article by NPR said that the Hepatitis A was first identified in the area in early March, according to the county, and declared a public health emergency earlier this month. Nearly 400 people have been infected with the disease.
The majority of those sickened by this viral infection outbreak have been homeless people. A letter from San Diego County health officials stated that hepatitis A is being spread through contact with a “fecally contaminated environment” as well as person-to-person transmission. A big part of the problem is an apparent lack of public restrooms in areas where the homeless population congregates.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral infection, which can prove fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus attacks the liver. Adequate personal hygiene and sanitation can help prevent the spread of the virus.
On August 31, the county issued a directive which has forced the city to wash the streets and expand public restroom access, adding that “failure to immediately follow this directive will endanger public health and safety.” Last Friday, the city agreed to the orders and began bleaching the streets on Monday.
According to NPR, the process is lengthy and must be repeated every two weeks to combat the outbreak.
The procedure, as prescribed by the county, involves first spraying down hazardous items such as human waste or needles, waiting 10 minutes, removing the contaminated items, then spraying the area again with bleach. After that, it calls for pressure-washing the area with water.
It is set to be repeated every two weeks, with weekly “spot maintenance,” according to county guidelines. –NPR
Contractors started spraying down certain areas on Monday with a diluted household bleach solution. They continued spraying bleach Wednesday, and are set to hit the final zone of downtown San Diego by Friday, according to a city spokesperson.
Mike Saag, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham focusing on infectious diseases, told NPR that he finds San Diego’s street washing approach reasonable for stemming the spread of hepatitis A. “If there’s a sanitation problem, then the thing to do is clean up the area, and bleach is probably the best disinfectant that we have for this type of viral infection,” Saag said. He added that “once hepatitis A starts to be transmitted in a community like this, it’s kind of hard to stop.” He also recommends getting everyone the vaccine for the virus. But he also admits that that could be an uphill battle since most of those at risk for contracting the disease because of this outbreak live on the streets. “The issue is getting people, especially those who might be living on the street, into care and getting the series [of shots],” Saag adds.
There have been more than 250 mass vaccination events, and nurses have been deployed to areas which have a large homeless population, according to the county. Dozens of hand-washing stations have been installed, with more on the way. But this all began with the city’s skyrocketing poverty and homelessness.
The number of people living on the streets downtown is up some 27 percent to nearly 1,300, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. It’s particularly visible in the 104% increase in the number of tents and hand-built structures, the newspaper adds.
A lack of affordable housing is contributing to the problem and the continual raising of taxes makes it harder on those already struggling financially. “Seventy-seven percent of unsheltered people said they became homeless in San Diego,” the Union-Tribune reports.
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf recently told member station KPBS that she is concerned about the amount of waste in her area as a result of illegal encampments of homeless people. “I went down there myself in July and what I saw with my own eyes was an insane amount of trash,” Zapf said. “I saw human feces, meth cookers, syringes, stolen property — and all of this will flow right to the ocean if it is not cleaned up, and it will spread hepatitis A virus.”