Hepatitis Outbreak: What if you get it? Should you get vaccinate - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Hepatitis Outbreak: What if you get it? Should you get vaccinated?

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - Since the hepatitis A outbreak began in the San Diego County region, many residents have questions about the disease itself.

What does hepatitis A do to the body?

It's a virus that attacks the liver, according to Dr. William Tseng who is the Assistant Medical Director at Kaiser Permanente. "A lot of it is very similar like the flu. You get the same type of symptoms as with a stomachache and nausea, but hepatitis A has the additional jaundice and also diarrhea," he said.

As of this week, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, said the death toll has climbed to 17, with 17 additional cases and 10 more hospitalizations this week.

A total of 461 cases have been confirmed in the region, in what has been described as the largest outbreak of the virus in decades. The outbreak began last November, but was not identified until March. The youngest person to be infected was a 5-year-old who had not been previously vaccinated, Wooten said.

What are the symptoms?

Dr. Tseng said, "the symptoms you get are you start to get a stomachache, some fevers, jaundice and some malaise."

Health officials say the most effective way to fight the contagious liver disease is by vaccinating at-risk populations, which include first responders, food handlers, health care professionals, service workers who interact with the homeless, workers in substance abuse programs and public transit employees.

The vaccine is 93% effective and it's a one time deal.

"Typically once you get the infection, you get it once and you have immunity from there on out. Your body build the defense system. It recognizes it the second time you get it and it attacks it - you are basically protected from it," said Dr. Tseng.

San Diego County officials have made vaccines available free to the public, including those in homeless encampments and other hepatitis A hot spots. Officials said more than 40,000 people have been vaccinated so far.

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