King County focuses on immunizations to head off larger hepatitis A outbreak


OLYMPIA, Wash. – For people living outside, the hardships pile up.

In SODO, Benjamin Johnson told us it can be tough taking care of basic needs.
“A lot of places around here don’t want you to use their bathroom so it’s kind of hard to be clean,” Johnson said.

Health officials say a lack of access to sanitation and health care is a key reason they’re concerned about an outbreak of hepatitis A among people who are homeless in Washington.

Two cases are confirmed in King County, one in Snohomish County, nine in Spokane County and one in Pend OReille County.

That’s far from the major outbreaks we’ve seen in places like San Diego.

Beginning in 2017, 600 people got sick and 20 died.

“What we’re trying to do is prevent an outbreak like they had in San Diego where it really spread quickly in the homeless population,” said John Gilvar, who manages the health care for the homeless program for Public Health Seattle — King County.

Since the San Diego outbreak, local health officials have immunized 2,500 people who are homeless.

“The prevention efforts that we’ve done so far have been effective it seems but I wouldn’t be overconfident,” Gilvar said.

Gilvar said the local outbreak could easily grow because hepatitis A incubates for 15 to 50 days before symptoms show up.

Hepatitis A is a communicable liver disease that spreads quickly among homeless communities through drug use and contact with human waste.

“If they didn’t have access to good hand-washing just microscopic amounts of feces on their hands could get on another surface and someone else could catch it,” Gilvar said.

Earlier this month, King County allocated $375,000 for more hepatitis A vaccines.

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