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Jackson County looks to shelters to help prevent Hepatitis A outbreak

(Source: WTTV).PNG

With Hepatitis A outbreaks documented across the U.S., state and local agencies are preparing for the worst case scenario, despite the fact that it has not yet cropped up in the Rogue Valley.

Hepatitis A is a viral disease transmitted by fecal matter. There is a vaccine, but without it, the virus could be more easily transmitted than you might like to think.

"We've had over the last few decades hepatitis A in the population of men who have sex with men and to a lesser extent people who inject drugs. More recently, however, we've noticed that the homeless population as well has become a focus of hepatitis A. And we've had some major outbreaks," says Jim Shames, a health officer with Jackson County Health and Human Services.

This year the state of Oregon is providing additional vaccines to counties to try to tackle the hepatitis A problem among the homeless population. But when you don't have a car to take you to the pick up site, or a home where you can leave your things, it can be complicated.

"Yes, we have vaccines, and yes, it's available to them at no cost, and yes, it's available in Medford, and that may work for some people, but we need to be sure to find strategies to get the vaccine to folks where they're at," Shames says.

To reach the largest group of people, that means a shelter. But shelters are also the kind of place where hepatitis A can spread, with close contact in confined spaces.

Even so, it's their best hope.

"Of course if there was something urgent, a health care concern, you know it's serious," says Sharon Harris, a night coordinator for the Ashland Winter Shelter Program. "We would want to make sure that information got to people"

For Ashland shelters resources are increasingly focused on not just providing a place to sleep, but connecting people to services.

"We will have lots of opportunities to get information to our volunteers, to get information disseminated to the unhoused population so that we can either you know connect with vaccines or just proactive practices for hygiene," says Harris.

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