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Hepatitis A outbreak strikes homeless population in LA County

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CBS News Los Angeles Live

Public Health officials announced an outbreak of hepatitis A among the homeless population in Los Angeles County on Monday. 

Scientists detected the first case of hepatitis A in mid-March. Since then, the infection has spread to at least five people, according to the LA County Department of Public Health.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection that can spread even before people feel sick. It spreads through the stool and blood of infected people or through contaminated food. Doctors said the unhoused are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis A because they typically have limited access to handwashing stations and toilets. 

To stem the outbreak, Public Health is offering free hepatitis A vaccines to anyone living in encampments and at interim housing sites. Those exposed to hepatitis A can take the vaccine to protect against developing the infection.

The vaccine typically comes in two doses. Public Health said it is safe and highly effective in preventing infection. 

The department also partnered with homeless outreach organizations to spread the word about the uptick in hepatitis A cases. They also hope to convince people with hepatitis A symptoms to seek medical care and for others to get vaccinated. 

Hepatitis A can be a mild illness that lasts a few weeks or a severe sickness that lasts for months. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine or yellow eyes/skin. In rare cases, it can cause death. 

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