California declared a state of emergency Friday after a deadly hepatitis A outbreak has spread faster than the state’s ability to supply the vaccine that can ward off the disease.
The declaration allows the state to “increase its supply of hepatitis A vaccines in order to control the current outbreak,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement, according to CBS News.
So far, 581 people in California have been sickened with disease, which targets the liver. Hepatitis A is potentially fatal for people who with liver diseases, such as hepatitis B or C.
San Diego County officials declared a public health emergency earlier this month after an outbreak that began last November claimed 16 lives and hospitalized 300 people. In Santa Cruz County, about 69 people have been diagnosed since April.
“The reason we’re particularly concerned (now) is because we have an outbreak in San Diego and we have an outbreak in Santa Cruz, and the contagion is in a population not easily contained,” said Dr. Sharon Balter, the chief of the California Department of Public Health’s communicable disease control program.
The disease has most often struck homeless individuals or drug users, but then spread to workers at a health care facility working with those patients. State officials are urging health care providers, food service workers and shelter employees to get vaccinated.
“Vaccinating people at risk of exposure is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of hepatitis A,” said the department’s director, Dr. Karen Smith, according to the Los Angeles Times.
California's hepatitis A outbreak may linger for years, experts say pic.twitter.com/hqHS0ffNNz
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Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said federal funds should be allocated for the fight against the disease.
“We cannot wait until more communities are infected and impacted before taking action,” he wrote to the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control.
Gil Chavez, deputy director of the state department’s Center for Infectious Diseases, said a federal program has already supplied about 80,000 doses of the vaccine.
“That is a big chunk of their total supply for the entire country for the year,” Chavez said, as reported by The Mercury News. “It’s been very clear that our continued requests for additional vaccines is running into their limit with what they can share with California.”
Hepatitis A is most commonly transmitted through contaminated food, but the California outbreak is spreading from person to person, mostly among the homeless and those in unsanitary conditions.
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