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To fight hepatitis outbreak, San Diego begins power-washing streets with bleach

Lindsey Bever

The Washington Post.

Crews have started sanitizing streets, sidewalks and gutters in San Diego to try to combat a hepatitis A outbreak among the city’s homeless population.

Amid an outbreak across San Diego County that health officials say has led to 16 deaths and nearly 300 hospitalizations, workers were power-washing areas in downtown San Diego earlier this week with water laced with chlorine and bleach, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently announced that measures to try to curb the spread of the deadly disease would include administering free vaccinations, installing hand-washing stations and implementing sanitation procedures on the streets.

“We must continue to work collaboratively to stop this crisis and save lives,” he said in a statement.

San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency said in a statement the majority of the 421 reported cases relating to the hepatitis A outbreak across the county were among the homeless and drug users. There were 5,619 people reported homeless in San Diego earlier this year, 3,231 of whom were living on the streets without shelter, according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

Hepatitis A, which is a highly contagious liver infection caused by a virus, is spread person-to-person typically through poor sanitation practices, such as not washing hands after using the restroom.

Health officials in San Diego County said the disease is spreading “through contact with a fecally contaminated environment.”

“No common sources of food, beverage or drugs have been identified that have contributed to this outbreak, though investigation is ongoing,” according to the department.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that since the introduction of a vaccine in 1995, hepatitis A infections have declined by 95 percent. Symptoms include fever, jaundice, joint pain, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, as well as dark urine and clay-colored bowel movements, according to the health agency.

The Los Angeles Times reported that San Diego’s recent efforts come in response to calls from the county, which has declared a public health emergency. The city of San Diego said it would keep 14 restrooms open 24 hours a day in Balboa Park, where many of the city’s homeless stay, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In addition, 40 hand-washing stations were installed in areas where the city’s homeless gather, according to local news reports.

Crews will clean the streets again Wednesday and Friday, and then again every other week to attempt to control the outbreak.

“By disinfecting our sidewalks and making additional public restrooms available 24/7, we’re following the direction of county health officials to address the unsanitary conditions that have helped fuel this outbreak,” Craig Gustafson, senior director of communications for the mayor, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We’re taking swift action to eradicate this virus from our streets and keep our most vulnerable residents safe.”