County ends hep A emergency, Carlsbad follows lead

CARLSBAD — After four weeks of no reported cases, the county of San Diego ended its public health emergency over the hepatitis A outbreak.

As such, the city of Carlsbad has also ended its emergency efforts to combat the outbreak after the county reported no new cases over the past four weeks. The county declared the emergency on Sept. 1, 2017, when hundreds of cases were reported.

In total, the county reports 577 cases, 395 hospitalizations and 20 deaths due to the hepatitis A outbreak. At least 50 total cases were reported in North County, according to a map on the county website. Only three hepatitis A cases associated with the county outbreak were reported in Carlsbad.

From May to September 2017, there was an average of 84 cases reported each month. In December, it dropped to eight cases and no cases with symptom-onset in 2018 have been reported, according to the county.

However, county officials stressed ending the emergency declaration does not mean the outbreak is over, according to the county’s website.

County public health officials will continue to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health on the efforts that were taken to control the outbreak.

Last fall, the Carlsbad City Council approved an urgency ordinance allowing after-hours access to six handwashing stations and three existing portable restrooms with handwashing stations in city parks. The county will remove the six handwashing stations it had provided at city parks, but the three city-maintained portable restrooms and handwashing stations, which have been in place for years, will remain. Those are at Cannon Park, Hosp Grove Park and Zone 5 Park. 

Once again, city parks are closed between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. The urgency ordinance, which expired concurrently with the end of the county emergency declaration, had allowed extended access for the use of available handwashing stations and portable restrooms. 

The city also mobilized a response team to help limit the spread of the virus. It placed three portable restrooms with handwashing stations in the Village area. To date, they have not been heavily used, according to city staff, but they will remain in place pending further evaluation of the need. 

The city team also provided free vaccinations for those most at risk in the community. About 1,500 vaccinations were administered in the city along with increased cleaning of city-operated restrooms.

Hepatitis A is generally considered milder than the flu but can be very serious for those with compromised immune systems. The virus is transmitted when a person ingests human excrement from a person who has been infected by hepatitis A.

The hepatitis A virus can live for months in even a microscopic amount of feces outside the body (on doorknobs and park benches for example), which is why it’s so important people wash their hands properly after using the bathroom and before eating. It’s not spread through coughing (airborne) or contact with blood or other bodily fluids, only feces. 

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