Hepatitis A getting close to home

The Health Center gathers its efforts in assisting students during the hepatitis A outbreak. Photo courtesy of The USD Webpage

A recent outbreak of hepatitis A (HAV) hit close to home this month. According to the University of San Diego Student Health Center, students were potentially exposed to the virus at the Pacific Beach restaurant, World Famous. 

Kimberly Woodruff, Supervising Physician of the USD Student Health Center, explained the current outbreak on campus.

“Recently we were informed that 58 students were potentially exposed to hepatitis A through a food handler that was working at a restaurant the group visited,” Woodruff said. “The Health Center contacted all 58 students to inform them of their immunization status and recommended vaccination for those that were not vaccinated or undervaccinated.” 

Students and faculty mostly found out the news from social media posts or friends.

Senior Olnita Martini read about it on her timeline.“I was honestly very shocked about it,” Martini said. “I was not informed until very late and found out on Facebook. It just shows how poorly informed the local public can be on certain issues.” 

Woodruff shared what exactly students need to know about the virus.“Hepatitis A is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver,” Woodruff said. “Those that become ill can experience significant illness (fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, jaundice, etc.) that lasts for weeks.  Most symptoms resolve in less than two months; however, some individuals can be ill up to six months. Fortunately, hepatitis A is self-limited, meaning that it does not lead to chronic liver disease like other forms of hepatitis. The disease is not typically fatal, and those that have died during this outbreak had other complicating health issues.”

The City of San Diego reported on its website that, “The majority of people who have contracted hepatitis A are homeless and/or illicit drug users, although some cases have been neither.” 

According to city officials, there have been a total of 444 cases, 16 deaths, and 305 hospitalizations since Sept. 19. 

When senior Michaela Conley found out about the outbreak, she took the time to research the virus. 

“When I learned about the outbreak, it was scary but it’s also important to be educated and not panic,” Conley said. “Instead, it’s important to do research and try to handle the situation as best as you can.” 

Conley also considered how the virus has impacted the community. “Right now, I think it’s most important to aid the homeless population of San Diego, since they are most affected by the outbreak,” Conley said. “Vaccinations and proper health care should be made available to them in order to prevent a more widespread outbreak.”

The first initial outbreak known to the San Diego County Public Health Department (SDCPHD) started in downtown San Diego. Within a few days the virus spread to Pacific Beach.

A local restaurant, World Famous, was closed down on Sept. 19 due to possible exposure to the virus from an employee. According to a statement released to the San Diego Union-Tribune from the restaurant’s general manager, Erik Berkley, it is not verified if the employee has hepatitis A. But Berkley confirmed that the employee was possibly exposed to the virus from his or her spouse. 

The Union-Tribune stated that the restaurant is doing everything in its efforts to protect its employees and customers. 

“World Famous shut its doors last Tuesday after being notified of possible exposure,’  the article said. Berkley said county health inspections found no evidence of hepatitis contamination, but the restaurant, in an abundance of caution, hired a private hazardous materials company to perform a deep cleaning.”

The City of San Diego has also taken action by bleaching the streets of the city, administering and advising citizens to get HAV vaccinations, and issuing weekly updates of cases and information concerning HAV.  

For students, the Student Health Center serves as a beneficial resource for vaccines, information, and concerns regarding the virus. 

Woodruff wants students to be informed, stay up-to-date on shots, and, most importantly, stay updated and know that the virus is preventable. 

“Hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses and provides great protection,” Woodruff said.  “Check your immunization records to see if you had the two doses.  If you have not received the vaccine or only received one dose, you can get the vaccine at the Health Center (cost $40) or you can obtain the vaccine from your doctor’s office, most pharmacies, or minute clinics. The county public health department is offering free vaccines for at-risk populations.  To check your eligibility you can call 211 or visit www.211.org.  In addition to vaccination, good handwashing practices can reduce your risk of being infected.” 

Woodruff, along with the Student Health Center and the SDCPHD, plans to continue to work to help students during the outbreak. Woodruff encouraged students to wash their hands frequently and get vaccinated if they have not already done so. 

Nicole Kuhn | Assistant News Editor | The USD Vista