Lessons From San Diego's Hepatitis A Outbreak

Voice of San Diego reports in detail about the months of warning San Diego officials had about the spread of Hepatitis A in public areas around the city. Still, prevention measures took a back seat to bureaucracy.

2 minute read

September 27, 2017, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


California Homeless

welcomia / Shutterstock

Lisa Halverstadt provides in-depth, behind-the-scenes reporting on a massive public health scare that finally came to national attention this month in San Diego, after hundreds were infected with Hepatitis A. (Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person, according to the World Health Organization's definition.)

Halverstadt reports on the disparate experience on the citizens who contracted Hepatitis A, while officials from the city and the country of San Diego delayed in a response. An initial email alert about a growing number of Hep A cases, sent in March, didn’t draw much attention, according to Halverstadt. That initial alert reported 19 cases, but by mid-April that number had climbed to 42, and two had died. "By early May, the situation worsened. Three patients were dead, and there were 80 documented cases," adds Halverstadt. By June that number reached 160 cases, with the death toll rising to four.

Halverstadt tracks the response of city and county officials alongside the growing number of documented cases. Of concern to planners and anyone interested in the relationship between public health and the built environment were the city's lack of sanitation stations, and its inability to roll out more facilities. "On July 13, two hand-washing stations went up outside a quiet county health complex in Midway, miles from downtown streets considered ground zero of the outbreak," according to Halverstadt. "County health officials said they believed poor hygiene fueled the spread of the virus, yet efforts to deploy more hand-washing stations stalled for weeks." Another story by James deHaven reports that San Diego officials were repeatedly warned about a lack of public bathrooms in the city's downtown. Paul Sisson reports that commuters are now afraid to take public transit.

In September, the story of San Diego's Hepatitis A outbreak went national, punctuated by the story of the city bleaching its streets in response to the spread of the virus, and the Los Angeles Times began to wonder if the outbreak could be coming to the larger city to the north, with its massive homeless population and similar lack of sanitation resources.

Monday, September 25, 2017 in Voice of San Diego

Aerial view of homes on beach in Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

The new law will give counties the power to limit number or short-term rentals and convert existing short-term rental units back into long-term residential housing.

May 13, 2024 - USA Today

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21 - The Architect's Newspaper

Close-up of back windshield of Waymo autonomous car.

NHTSA Launches Investigations Into Two More Self-Driving Automakers

The federal agency is responding to reports of crashes and erratic behavior from Waymo and Zoox vehicles.

May 21 - Smart Cities Dive

Texas Townhomes

Austin Reduces Minimum Lot Size

Smaller lot sizes for single-family homes can make construction more affordable and homeownership available to more households.

May 21 - The Texas Tribune

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.