San Diego hepatitis carrier caused mass outbreak in Arizona

Downtown infectious disease conventioneers advised to get vaccinated

Contagion convention poster downtown
  • Contagion convention poster downtown

With San Diego's soaring death rate from hepatitis A, where better to hold IDWeek — a big-money infectious disease convention featuring the nation's top epidemic experts — than the tony reaches of the city’s downtown convention center?

"Where infectious disease news is viral," says an advertisement already posted in the Gaslamp Quarter by Contagion, an online operation devoted to covering "infectious diseases today."

"That’s right — Contagion® will return to ID Week this year — in San Diego, California — to provide exclusive written and video coverage on the biggest conference dedicated specifically to infectious diseases," says the website.

"One big topic that hits close to home in San Diego is hepatitis A."

IDWeek's website features a warning to attendees, though it's not quite ready to break out the Hazmat suits:

Kevin Faulconer

Kevin Faulconer

"We are confident that travel to San Diego is safe. We do urge visitors to follow standard good hygiene, washing your hands before eating. Vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A are also available, and non-health professionals should consult their doctor or other health professional."

"The Hepatitis A strain associated with the current outbreak is transmitted person to person and the city is taking many precautions, including vaccinating target populations, sanitizing the public streets where at-risk populations congregate and setting up 24-hour bathroom facilities for them."

"IDWeek attendees who are pregnant or have various immunocompromised conditions, chronic liver disease, clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia, and other high-risk circumstances should consider vaccination."

Whether this particular contingent of conventioneers gets the customary visitor greeting from city hall and GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer — accused by critics of favoring spin ahead of portable toilets — remains to be seen, but a new research paper is shedding more negative light on the local health disaster.

Sally Ann Iverson

Sally Ann Iverson

LinkedIn photo

On Thursday, a team led by Sally Ann Iverson, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic intelligence officer stationed in Phoenix, is set to present a paper entitled "Hepatitis A Outbreak Among Persons Experiencing Homelessness — Maricopa County, Arizona, 2017."

Using "Molecular and epidemiologic data" to pin down the source of a mass outbreak at a Maricopa County homeless shelter this past spring, the researchers determined that "the patient with the earliest onset arrived February 5 from San Diego, California, an area with an ongoing [hepatitis A] outbreak." Three samples of the virus were found to be "molecularly identical to San Diego."

Adds the abstract, "Crowding and suboptimal hygiene practices might have facilitated campus transmission. Expeditious vaccination might have slowed spread; surveillance is ongoing."

Another session with a San Diego angle is entitled "The Surprising Return of Hepatitis A: Ongoing Outbreaks Among Homeless and IDU Populations," to feature Monique Foster, MD, MPH of the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Eric McDonald, MD, MPH, from the Epidemiology and Immunization Services Branch at the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

For those not eager to venture into the germ-infested Gaslamp Quarter, the event offers Posters in the Park on Wednesday. "Posters, wine, and cheese will be available in the Posters in the Park Area of the Poster Hall in the San Diego Convention Center," says the program.

"We encourage you to take this opportunity to mingle with colleagues and talk to poster presenters whose research has been specially selected by each of the partner societies."

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