Vaccination patrol helps fight hepatitis A outbreak

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside is taking multiple steps to help fight the regional hepatitis A outbreak that has spread quickly among the homeless, illegal drug users and the general population.

Among the city’s efforts is deploying a vaccination foot patrol to homeless encampments, soup kitchens and areas used for shelter. Police Homeless Outreach Team officers and county health nurses have teamed up to go into the field to inform high-risk groups about the outbreak and offer free vaccinations.

Officers use their knowledge and established relationship with city homeless to lead the outreach. County nurses armed with kits, which contain vaccinations, needles, gloves, alcohol wipes, bandages and supplies, administer vaccinations on the spot.

Over the past two months the foot patrol team has visited more than a dozen areas within the city. Tom Bussey, Oceanside Police public information officer, said the team has been out on weekly patrols totaling 40 hours a month to combat the disease. The team will return to target areas to ensure all who want a vaccination receive one. Sometimes it takes asking a person more than once before they decide to be vaccinated.

County teams are doing the same throughout the region. The goal is to vaccinate the entire at-risk population.

The outbreak has killed 16 people in San Diego County, as of Sept. 19, and hospitalized hundreds. Hepatitis A is most commonly spread person-to-person through fecal-oral contact. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and light-colored stools. The disease has hit the homeless population and those who use illegal drugs the hardest.

A county health emergency was declared in September. This prompted further city efforts to promote vaccination, sanitation, and education.

“We are actually doing a lot,” Michelle Skaggs Lawrence, city manager, said.

City police officers, firefighters, housing, maintenance, library and parks and recreation staff will be able to receive a free vaccination beginning next week.

An information website will be set up, and a community education campaign has begun. Partners in the education outreach include MainStreet Oceanside, Oceanside Chamber of Commerce and Visit Oceanside.

Each group is contacting its members and the community at large with information updates.

MainStreet sent businesses an e-blast last week to alert them to their responsibility to clean sidewalks and outside areas, keep restrooms clean and disinfected, remind employees to wash their hands with soap and warm water, have employees who come in contact with others wear disposable gloves and provide notice of where employees can get vaccinations.

The city will continue to power wash public areas with high homeless traffic to cut down on germs.

Homeless Outreach Team officers will pass out hygiene kits, which contain hand sanitizer, cleansing wipes, bottled water, an informational flyer and a waste bag.

Oceanside is also requesting handwashing stations from the county to place in areas without access to facilities that homeless individuals frequent.

County health officials advise the best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated.

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