Hep A outbreak in Philly

An image of Hepatitis A virus
Wikimedia Commons/CDC Public Health Image Library

Six months ago, Philly declared an outbreak of Hepatitis A as a public health emergency, and a new report shows how the city is combating the illness.

In August 2019, there were 120 cases and in December there were less than ten according to a release.
The study shows that since the new installation of public toilets, there has been a 90 percent drop from the peak of cases. The city opened two public restrooms and a handwashing station in Kensington to help combat the spread of disease caused by contact with feces.

The report shows that the restrooms were used 21,351 times within a nine-week period.

Four deaths have been attributed to the outbreak so far. The study reports that 60 percent of those suffering from Hep A are repeat drug users and/or suffering from homelessness.

The release states that the outbreak peaked in 2019, when there were 426 outbreak-related cases. Most (329 of them) were reported between June and September 2019.

To help combat the outbreak, The Philly Health Department started a campaign in August 2019 to provide at-risk people⁠—such as injection drug users, those experiencing homelessness, and others⁠—in the Kensington area with vaccines. The city report shared that 12,442 vaccines were provided to protect those at risk.

In September 2019, the city installed handwashing stations and public toilets in the Kensington area. After the installation, the cases began to decrease. In September, there were 50 cases, in October, there were 36. November had 15, and there were only nine cases in December.

“The most successful strategy to combat these outbreaks is an intensive vaccination campaign, which we’ve implemented and appears to have worked. While we are excited to see these results, there is much more work to be done to ensure that the infection does not flare up again,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a release.

It was reported that the vaccines had been distributed through many different community organizations. The city held pop-up vaccine clinics at SEPTA’s Frankford and Arrott transportation centers and other spots like McPherson Square. The city has had at least 204 vaccine outreach events.

The city wanted to make sure everyone at risk could get access to the vaccines and to help make that happen, and the release states that :

  • The Philadelphia Department of Prisons provided 4,310 vaccinations to prisoners.
  • Hospital emergency departments provided 3,000 vaccinations to patients determined to be at-risk.
  • Prevention Point Philadelphia hosted a contract nurse to administer vaccinations inside their drop-in center for several months.
  • Recovery and addiction services centers, and homeless shelters and soup kitchens provided on-site vaccination clinics for both clients and staff.

Besides vaccines, Philly has also given out almost 7,000 hygiene kits to those at a high-risk. The kits include essentials such as waste bags, hand sanitizer, soap, antimicrobial body wipes, and condoms. Some other items in the kits include information about hepatitis A prevention and opioid addiction.

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