The running tally of confirmed cases of hepatitis A in San Diego County has reached at least 536, up from 516 at this time last year, according to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

Hepatitis is a virus (infection) that causes liver disease and inflammation of the liver, which is technically considered curable. Rates have dropped significantly in developed countries over the past 20 years, thanks in large part to a vaccine that was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995.

As a result of the perceived diminished threat of hepatitis A, this year’s epidemic has led to a “constrained supply” of the vaccine required to stop it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scientists have yet to pinpoint a cause for this year’s unprecedented outbreak, which has been marked by a groundswell of cases from California to Michigan. The only factors patients seem to have in common at this point are homelessness and/or illicit drug use.

″You’re seeing an increasing numbers of homeless people in encampments, and these types of arrangements have unsatisfactory sanitation and hygiene facilities available,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Seattle. “So it’s kind of like a refugee camp in that sense in that it’s perfect for the transmission for disease spread through fecal matter.”

Most hepatitis outbreaks in the U.S. are ultimately traced back to contaminated food, according to the CDC. Once the specific food is identified, an outbreak can be effectively halted. However, the current epidemic with its unknown source “has no comparison” in terms of its potential to unleash new cases, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, director of public health services for San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency.

Michigan has seen 457 cases and 18 deaths so far in 2017, the majority of which occurred among the city’s indigent population. New York City has seen 95 cases, most of which have been associated with unsafe sexual practices.

“There’s no real rationale for where it happens in one place rather than another,” Duchin said. “The rapidity at which [hepatitis A is] going through the population and potentially getting into the general community is a real threat.”

Source: Huffington Post

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