15 Deaths, 400 Sick in Hepatitis A Outbreak in San Diego

According to a report with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, a Hepatitis A outbreak has engulfed the East Village section of Downtown San Diego, an area that includes a large portion of the community’s homeless population.

So far, according to the county report, the outbreak has sickened close to 400 people, caused 15 deaths and nearly 300 hospitalizations.

The outbreak began in November and has quickly spread after vaccination and educational programs in the city failed to reduce the infection rate. Hepatitis A vaccines are available at no charge to uninsured individuals at any of the county’s public health centers.

A report released last January released by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, noted the homeless population in that area has spiked 27% year over year. The same report noted a 5% jump countywide. San Diego’s homeless population is believed to have swelled to nearly 10,000.

The outbreak began in November and has quickly spread after vaccination and educational programs in the city failed to reduce the infection rate.

In a pointed critique, San Diego Union Tribune columnist Dan McSwain recently wrote, “the ramifications of leadership failure go well beyond the simmering offense to the human decency of leaving our poorest people to fend for themselves. We have full-blown crises of public safety and public health, the twin imperatives of any functioning government. San Diego has lost control of many of its streets.”

POWER WASH THE DISEASE AWAY

Now city officials are announcing they will be power washing the streets in East Village with bleach within the next 10 days in an attempt to kill the virus.

Environmentalists will no doubt be concerned about that bleach, and will the excess run off make its way into the ocean.

city officials are announcing they will be power washing the streets in East Village with bleach

Although Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego’s Public Health Officer says the bleach effort has been done in Los Angeles. Wooten said, “We know that L.A. has had no local cases of hepatitis A related to the strain that we’re seeing here in San Diego. If they’re doing it there and they haven’t had any cases, it could be beneficial here as well.”

ALPHA PROJECT RAISED CONCERNS LAST YEAR

In an op-ed published on IVN last year, Alpha Project President Bob McElroy was prescient when he wrote, “I’ve been working on homeless issues for more than 30 years in San Diego and I can honestly say I’ve never seen the problem as bad as it is right now.” He continued, “without a central intake facility, we will not be able to solve the homeless issue in Downtown San Diego.  There must be a starting point for services.”

To date, there is still no central intake facility to handle the growing homeless population.

RENT INCREASING HOMELESSNESS?

Another issue at work that is likely adding to the homeless spike in San Diego is rental prices.

Gordon Walker, CEO of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless population said, “Does rent increase homelessness? In a tight market, it’s probable.”

A new study by the real estate giant Zillow found the annual homeless count in San Diego at 11,149, a difference of 28.6 percent from a January report.

Gordon Walker, CEO of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless population said, Does rent increase homelessness? In a tight market, it’s probable.

Skylar Olsen, a senior economic director with Zillow said the real story was in the number of unsheltered people. Olsen said while the January count revealed 4,940 people were living outside, the Zillow study estimated there actually were 7,420, a difference of 50 percent.  Those numbers, Zillow contends, are directly related to the high costs of housing in San Diego.