This year San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles counties in CA experienced an unprecedented Hepatitis A outbreak. Over 568 people have been sickened and 17 have died from the viral infection. While the disease is usually spread through contaminated food or water, this outbreak was transmitted person-to-person and has even been linked to 15 cases in Phoenix, AZ. Most of these infections have occurred in the homeless population or among drug users, but 23% of the California cases are among people associated with the homeless.
When a pathogen like Hepatitis A spreads so quickly, cleaning up infectious diseases is paramount to public health.
How It Spreads
"Basically, if an individual is infected with hepatitis A and they use the restroom and don't wash their hands, and then they can spread or contaminate the environment: door handles, ATMs or whatever they touch," says Dr. Wilma Wooten, public health officer and director of public health services for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, as reported by CNN. “Other people who touch the same objects and fail to wash their hands before eating, smoking or touching their faces can become infected as well.”
It’s not just hepatitis A. Other infectious diseases, like chicken pox, the common cold, conjunctivitis, flu and the measles are spread by contact too.
How Long Will It Last?
The California outbreak was caused by a growing homeless population and inadequate access to sanitation facilities. Authorities fear it may last for another year or two. “New cases linked to the outbreak might not appear for weeks, because it can take up to 50 days for an infected person to show symptoms, said Santa Cruz public health manager Jessica Randolph in an article for the LA Times. “I don’t think the worst is over.”
How to Prevent It
California declared a state of emergency, allowing them access to more vaccines to combat the Hepatitis A outbreak. San Diego has also begun washing down the streets with a water/bleach solution and setting up handwashing stations.
While this is an extreme case, janitorial professionals are on the front line, cleaning up infectious diseases every day. In fact, there have been cases of cleaning professionals contracting Hepatitis A on the job. They should take care of their health by wearing protective, puncture-resistant gloves and washing their hands after taking them off.
To protect the general population, cleaning staff should follow the directions on disinfectants and dispose of cleaning materials in a leak proof bag. They should also consider using advanced technology like a no-touch cleaning system. This technology sprays solution on surfaces, follows with fresh water then vacuums the excess water and soils away.
Click here for more tips on safely cleaning up infectious diseases.
Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.