Health & Medicine

Lack of bathroom access linked to hepatitis A outbreak among the homeless

Homeless camps grow along shores of American River

Maury Hatch, a fishing guide, shows us a view, by boat, of homeless camps along the lower American River.
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Maury Hatch, a fishing guide, shows us a view, by boat, of homeless camps along the lower American River.

An outbreak of hepatitis A among primarily homeless people in Southern California and Santa Cruz has prompted Sacramento County health officials to ramp up prevention efforts and talk about bathroom access for the homeless.

While no cases of the potentially deadly virus have been reported in Sacramento County this year, free vaccine clinics will open within the next two weeks, according to County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye. The county is working with homeless shelters to determine the placement of clinics.

“Several clinics will be open because we know it will be difficult to get everyone at one time,” she said.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease and symptoms include fever, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue. Most people recover, but those who have hepatitis B or C are at increased risk for complications that can lead to death in certain situations, Kasirye said.

Homeless and drug users are the most at-risk since the virus has so far been spread through contact with an infected person’s feces and contaminated needles, according to Sacramento County Public Health.

In San Diego, 16 people have died and at least 300 have been hospitalized. According to the The Los Angeles Times, the outbreak has been linked to a lack of access to public restrooms downtown.

Kasirye said increasing access to public restrooms and using portable toilets and sinks has been discussed as part of the County’s preventive plan, but nothing has been decided yet. In downtown Sacramento, the only public restroom is in Cesar Chavez Plaza on I Street, but the city shut those facilities, forcing homeless people to use the bathrooms at the Central Library.

“The city is aware of the emerging issue and are working on solutions to address (it),” said city spokeswoman Marycon Young in an email.

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM

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