San Diego

Many Downtown Residents Unaware of Hepatitis A Outbreak

So far, 421 people have been diagnosed with the highly contagious virus

As San Diego County health officials try to contain the Hepatitis A outbreak, which is especially impacting downtown San Diego, many residents in the area say they are in the dark about the highly contagious virus.

The county declared the outbreak on March 3. More than six months later, officials say 16 people have died and hundreds have been sickened.

Amin Kamaluddin and his family have lived in East Village for the last couple of years. Steps away from his home is a new hand washing station put in to try to combat the outbreak.

But Kamaluddin told NBC 7, he did not even know about the outbreak until just a few days ago.

"Honestly, if I didn't watch the news, I wouldn't know. I would've thought they just put that hand washer out there because they wanted to," he said.

There are now 421 cases of Hepatitis A across the county, spanning from Imperial Beach to Oceanside. The bulk of the cases are among the homeless population in downtown San Diego.

"I feel like, yeah, the city should've said something beforehand. At least warn us and the people that live around here. We got no warning," said Kamaluddin.

This week, the city began sanitizing sidewalks in the East Village and Little Italy.

Health experts said this is a step in the right direction. 

"I think if we continue to focus on immunizing people at risk, and then cleaning the environment, we will be able to end this outbreak," said Dr. Fadi Haddad, from Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

The virus can live outside the body for months, on a sidewalk or in standing water. It's spread through person-to-person contact, usually in areas with fecal matter, like bathrooms.

It can also spread by consuming food or water handled by someone with Hepatitis A.

The county recorded almost 30 new cases during just one week in the beginning of August.

The Gaslamp Quarter is the next area to have the sidewalks sprayed with a bleach and water mixture. That is scheduled to begin Friday at 7 a.m.

The same method is used periodically in Los Angeles.

Health experts recommend getting the Hepatitis A vaccine but it does take a week or two to take effect.

It became a routine vaccination for all children in the United States in 2006.

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