SAN DIEGO—Reports began surfacing on Friday, October 6 that Hepatitis A has plagued the San Diego area, impacting members of the homeless population and illegal drug users. The outbreak, which was first discovered about a year ago, is the worst in decades.

Public health officials have shared that the heavily contagious virus is transported through fecal, oral, or sexual contact. Touching objects or eating food which handled by an infected person can cause the disease to spread.

In 1996, a vaccine for the disease was cultivated and has led to the decline in the number of case.

Dr. Monique Foster from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that illegal drug users, those who travel to regions where hepatitis A is a natural case, and amongst homosexual and bisexual males are at a higher risk of infection. Outbreaks can surface for up to 2 years. There is currently no treatment, and those with liver diseases and the elderly population are also at a high risk of contracting the virus. Some symptoms are not discovered until about a month after an individual has contracted the illness and can lead to liver failure and death.

On October 3, public health officials discovered 481 cases of the virulent liver disease, and 337 victims were hospitalized and 17 died. Eight-five percent of verified cases have been located in San Diego, prompting street maintenance crews to rid local areas of bodily fluids (including blood and feces) by dousing the streets with a mixture of bleach and high-pressure water. Movable hand-washing stations were set up in areas with a large percentage of homeless individuals.

Additional cases of the virus have been reported in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, but no deaths have occurred. Dr. Eric McDonald of the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency indicated that medical officials are taking action to fight the plague; 54,000 city residents have received vaccinations thus far.