Monterey County is the latest county in California to declare a hepatitis A outbreak among its homeless population. California has been dealing with its largest hep A outbreak since the vaccine came out more than twenty years ago.
Ten people in Monterey County have been diagnosed with hep A -- nine of them homeless. The virus infects the liver and causes flu-like symptoms. It can be deadly.
hep A spreads when someone drinks water or eats food that’s contaminated with the feces of an infected person. So it’s most common in unsanitary places, making the homeless especially vulnerable.
The Monterey County Health Department has been offering free vaccines to the homeless since late last year.
“It’s a challenge. Some homeless individuals, for a variety of reasons, may find it difficult initially to accept the offer to receive a vaccine,” says Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno.
The Health Department is now trying new ways to get homeless people to accept the shot. Moreno says they’re using an incentive that worked in San Diego County.
“Something as simple as a card that they can use to get a meal at one of the restaurants here in Monterey County,” he says.
Beyond the vaccination, Moreno says local businesses can help stop the spread by disinfecting public bathrooms. And people should always wash their hands. Hand sanitizer doesn’t always kill the virus.
Within 24 hours of Monterey County declaring the outbreak, neighboring Santa Cruz County said its hep A outbreak is over.
In Santa Cruz County, 76 people got hep A; one person died from the virus.