Health officials in California say they are experiencing the worst outbreak of hepatitis A the state has experienced since a vaccine for the virus became available in 1996.
California Department of Public Health, or CDPH, last updated its official count of confirmed cases on November 3. At that time, the number of confirmed hepatitis A cases stood at 644 with more than 400 of those requiring hospitalization.
More than 20 deaths have been reported so far.
The state has already given out an estimated 80,000 doses of the vaccine, paid for through the federal vaccine program, but it will not be enough. Back in October Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency which allowed the state to purchase and distributed even more vaccines in especially vulnerable parts of the state.
The crisis is being driven, in part, by homelessness and inadequate sanitization, say doctors working to contain the outbreak. . Hepatitis A in the US is most often spread through person-to-person contact but the virus can also live for months in the environment. Uncooked or undercooked foods can play a role in such outbreaks, as can food preparers who do not (or cannot) practice adequate personal hygiene or exercise appropriate precautions while handling cooked food. The virus does survive the freezing process.
The various strains of hepatitis A found in this particular outbreak are related, say investigators, but have only rarely been seen in the US in the past.
As to when the outbreak may begin to ebb . . . no one knows. Eventually, say doctors, enough of the vaccine will be distributed to create what is known as a herd immunity effect but that isn’t on the horizon just yet.