-- As California finds itself in the grips of the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in more than two decades, health officials are taking emergency measures to curb the spread of the deadly disease.
Also unique about this outbreak is that the homeless population and illicit drug users are the hardest hit.
The outbreaks are affecting multiple counties in California, with the San Diego Jurisdiction bearing 490 infected cases. Since early spring, more than 80,000 vaccine doses have been distributed to the public and some municipalities have purchased their own supplies. San Diego County said it has administered more than 68,500 vaccines since the outbreak began.
Sanitation and hygiene are other important aspects of controlling the spread of hepatitis A, which is spread through fecal matter. Since the outbreak began in the spring, more than 100 hand washing stations have been have been installed in the area, most of which are in the city of San Diego. The city is also power-washing areas affected public areas with bleach solutions and making public bathrooms more available in areas most frequented by the homeless.
Below are answers to commonly asked questions about this disease.
How is Hepatitis A spread?
Since this virus spreads through the feces, outbreaks are most commonly seen in the presence of unsanitary conditions or behaviors. Food workers can spread the virus if they do not properly wash their hands after using the bathroom and caregivers can transmit the virus after changing the diaper of an infected baby.
What are symptoms of Hepatitis A?
The hepatitis A virus causes inflammation of the liver. Symptoms of infection include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Yellowing of the skin and eyes, also know has jaundice, is also a possible symptom of this virus.
Hepatitis A is an acute infection, with symptoms persisting for up to two months; rare cases may last longer. The virus does not typically lead to chronic infection or death, but it can prove fatal to those with compromised livers or immune systems.
How to protect against the virus
The vaccine is especially recommended for those at particularly increased risk, such as people with chronic liver disease, blood clotting disorders, men who have sex with men, those traveling to areas known to have the virus, such as parts of Africa and Asia, and those who could be in direct contact with people infected with hepatitis A, like health care workers.
The virus can live for months outside of the body on objects and surfaces, according to the CDC, and it can be difficult to kill.
“Hepatitis A is a hardy virus, and can certainly stay on surfaces and in the environment [for a long time],” Zahn said. Importantly, most waterless hand sanitizers and some household cleaners are not effective in destroying the virus. So when it comes to preventing spread, washing hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water is the best bet. Using bleach-based cleaning products is the most effective to clean surfaces in a way that eliminates the hepatitis A virus.
ABC News' Christopher Donato and Bianca Seidman contributed to this report.