After 15 die in hepatitis outbreak, San Diego begins sanitary street washing

A woman receives a Hepatitis A vaccine

A woman receives a Hepatitis A vaccine. Courtesy Centers for Disease Control

The goal is to encourage more people to wash their hands and stop the spread of the disease.

The county declared a local public health emergency on September 1, enhancing an ongoing vaccination campaign with the installation of hand-washing stations in locations where homeless residents, who have been hit hardest by the outbreak, gather.

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

According to reports, more than 15 people have already died in San Diego because of hepatitis A. The city is being hit with cases of the disease since November 2016, with authorities deciding to declare the outbreak a "health emergency".

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"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", San Diego mayoral spokeswoman Craig Gustafson said on Monday.

The mayor's morning news conference is schedule for the parking lot next to Father Joe's Villages, which provides services and indoor shelter for the homeless in downtown San Diego. The dire situation is being attributed to a lack of access to restrooms or showers for San Diego's homeless population.

The measures detailed plans to use bleach-spiked water for high-pressure washing to remove "all feces, blood, bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces".

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

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In addition, 40 hand-washing stations were installed in areas where the city's homeless gather, according to local news reports. "We're taking swift action to eradicate this virus from our streets and keep our most vulnerable residents safe".

"The issue is getting people, especially those who might be living on the street, into care and getting the series (of shots)", Saag adds.

While the city has worked on finding housing opportunities for the homeless, the decision also comes in the wake of a deadly hepatitis A outbreak, which has largely impacted the homeless. According to a statement from San Diego's Health and Human Services Agency, it has also infected the illicit drug users, and others who are neither. These recommend people, especially those at a higher risk, to get vaccinated.

San Diego County did not immediately respond to an NPR query about whether it is satisfied with the city's response.

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