Los Angeles County was officially declared to be enduring a hepatitis A outbreak on Tuesday, days after public health officials said they were working to prevent a spread of the contagious virus from San Diego, where it has killed 16 people.
While the number of cases in L.A. County is small, the concern is that they appear to be locally acquired rather than connected to the ongoing outbreaks in San Diego and Santa Cruz counties, the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a news release.
So far, 10 cases have been identified in L.A. County, all of them among individuals who live in shelters or are homeless, and thus are considered high-risk, officials said.
Of those cases, only two people appear to have acquired the infection within L.A. County. Another four were exposed in San Diego, and one in Santa Cruz, which led another three to pick up the virus in an L.A. County health facility.
In San Diego County, where a state of emergency declared Sept. 1, nearly 450 individuals have been infected. In Santa Cruz County, almost 70 cases have been confirmed.
L.A. County Interim Health Officer Jeffrey Gunzenhauser said officials are already working to provide free vaccinations to at-risk populations.
“Vaccination is the best protection against Hepatitis A," he said in the press release. "With this in mind, our outreach teams and clinics are offering free vaccine to persons who are homeless, active drug users, and those who provide services and support to those individuals.”
Officials had also been working to bleach and sanitize city streets and operating outreach and education programs in areas the could be affected.
Hepatitis A mainly spreads through contact with food and water that has been contaminated due to an infected person not properly washing their hands. People can also be exposed through sexual intercourse, contaminated drug equipment or contact with an infected individual's feces.
Vaccination is recommended for individuals who are homeless or use illicit drugs.
Others are advised not to share drinks, food, utensils, cigarettes or towels and to ask sexual partners about their hepatitis A status. It's also important to thoroughly clean hands after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, and before coming in contact with food.
If you think you may have been exposed, it is best to contact your doctor. More information can also be found on the county's public health website.