County officials are concerned that King County may soon experience an outbreak of Hepatitis A, a potentially fatal viral infection. Dr. Jeff Dunchin, King County’s Health Officer warns that homeless residents are particularly at risk.
According to a recent article posted by Hilary N. Karasz Phd at PublicHealthInsider.com, due to the high number of unhoused residents living in encampments and shelters without access to adequate hygiene facilities, King County is at risk of experiencing an outbreak similar to the current outbreak in San Diego, CA which has affected over 460 people and left 17 dead. To help reduce this risk, Public Health has begun outreach to raise awareness of the disease and how to protect yourself and others.
Because the virus is most often transmitted through oral contact with contaminated surfaces or foods, Dr. Dunchin of King County Public Health recommends that in addition to utilizing good hygiene practices (particularly handwashing before and after meals and using the restroom), people should also avoid sharing food, needles, drug equipment, cigarettes, toothbrushes, towels and utensils. Dr. Dunchin also highly recommends that individuals who are at high risk of contracting Hepatitis A receive a vaccine to protect against the virus as soon as possible. High risk populations include:
- People living homeless, especially those living unsheltered with poor access to handwashing facilities
- People who are living with or caring for a person who already has hepatitis A
- People who have sex with people with hepatitis A
- Men who have sex with men
- Illicit drug users (does not have to be injection drugs)
- People with clotting disorders like hemophilia
- International travelers
- People with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C are at increased risk for severe infections.
Vaccines for Hepatitis A are available at many general public health clinics throughout the county and are usually covered by insurance. At this time, vaccines for Hepatitis A are NOT covered by Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) but will be available for people living homeless at 5 free clinics in King County offered by Mobile Medical Team.
Hepatitis A fact sheet People Living Homeless – King County Public Health