Imperial County health officials watchful for Hepatitis A cases


EL CENTRO  Imperial Valley health officials have been treating a potential Hepatitis A patient at a local medical facility, according to a press release from the Imperial County Health Department. According to the Imperial County Heath Department (ICPHD), health-care providers are required to report Hepatitis cases to officials.

Due to legal and patient privacy laws, all that is known about the case is a person believed to be homeless reportedly checked into a local hospital this past week and ICPHD reports they believe the person in question had been in the Imperial Valley for a week before the case was reported. The case is pending verification of diagnosis by local and state medical officials.

In the past couple of months San Diego has been trying to contain a Hepatitis outbreak that has made the national news headlines. According to the San Diego County Public Health Department website, the virus has led to 16 deaths and hospitalized 305 people creating a public health emergency in that city. The virus is reported to have spread as far as Santa Cruz County in the past few months.

The Imperial County Public Health Department has no other known cases or suspected cases. “The Imperial County Public Health Department staff has been in contact with the San Diego County Department of Public Health to discuss the measures they have taken, staff continued to monitor the situation closely and in August of this year, staff requested Hepatitis A vaccine made available by the state health department to vaccinate the local homeless population as a preventative effort to protect individuals from the virus,” said Maria L. Peinado , the county’s Public Health Information Officer.

Vaccination efforts started in August and have continued through September. Public health staff also started sharing Hepatitis A information with local groups and agencies who work with the homeless, according to ICPHD.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website lists Hepatitis A as an infection in the body’s liver and is a highly contagious infection that is contracted orally, through food, contact with fecal matter, cups, spoons, and direct contact from someone that is infected. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the common symptoms as: nausea, fever, vomiting, joint pain, yellowing of the eyes and skin, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Like the single case in the Imperial Valley, officials believe many of the infection cases in San Diego and Los Angeles are from those in the homeless community. This has led to city officials in those cities to begin sanitizing public areas like bus stops and sidewalks and other areas that may have been contacted by infected individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control also points out other groups that may be at high risk of coming in contact and contracting this virus include anyone with direct contact with someone with Hepatitis A through direct contact and or sexual intercourse, illicit drug users, individuals with chronic liver disease, and people who have blood clotting disorders.
Groups who need to mindful and careful include those who work in the public service sector: food handlers, health care professionals, law enforcement, fire-EMT, and those who work directly with the homeless or substance abuse treatment centers.

The Imperial County Public Health Department has informed the public in Imperial County that the Hepatitis A vaccine is available for the homeless at no charge at the Imperial County Public Health Department and at local vaccination events. For all other individuals, the vaccine is available at local pharmacies, community clinics, and with healthcare providers.

A limited amount of vaccine is available at the Public Health Department at a cost. Organizations in contact with the homeless and are looking for vaccines for their staff are encouraged to contact their occupational healthcare provider for additional information. Homeless shelters wanting to arrange vaccinations for individuals at their facility may contact Jovana Araujo, Infectious Disease Prevention Supervisor, at 442-265-1394.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Imperial Valley Health Department both have outlined ways to be protected from the virus, like washing hands thoroughly throughout the day, especially after using the public restrooms. In the kitchen, protecting against Hepatitis A includes washing and cooking food thoroughly.