In a follow-up on the hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego, the case tally has grown to 228, including five fatalities, according to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency today.

Stethoscope Public domain image/Darnyi Zsóka
Public domain image/Darnyi Zsóka

During the local outbreak, 161 people have been hospitalized.  People who are either homeless or using illicit drugs account for at least seven in ten of the illnesses, and just over one in five also have hepatitis C.

“It is imperative that anyone at risk for hepatitis A get vaccinated,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “We cannot stress this enough – get vaccinated and make sure you wash your hands after going to the bathroom.

“Lives are at risk. Protect yourself, your family and the community.”

The County has been working with community partners to conduct vaccination clinics for people who are at risk for hepatitis A.  These partners include homeless services providers, community health clinics, faith-based community organizations, substance use treatment providers, hospital emergency departments, jails, and probation facilities.

Hepatitis A is a virus that can cause a liver infection. Symptoms can last a few days to several months. The virus is rarely fatal and most people develop lifetime immunity following infection. Hepatitis A can be serious however, especially for older people and those with chronic liver disease. For these individuals, there is a greater risk of hospitalization and death.

Most people who are infected recover completely. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not develop into chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and death from hepatitis A infection is rare.

Symptoms can begin 15 to 50 days after becoming infected. It is also possible to be infected and not have any symptoms. For symptomatic individuals, the severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, and light-colored stools.  Symptoms usually appear over a number of days and last less than two months.  However, some people can be ill for as long as six months.