LOS ANGELES, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- California's Governor Jerry Brown declared Friday a state of emergency amid the deadly hepatitis A outbreak that has killed at least 18 people in the western U.S. state.
The emergency proclamation, issued by Brown, allows the state to increase the supply of adult hepatitis A vaccines to meet current needs with an aim to help control the outbreak in the state.
The announcement also allows California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to immediately purchase additional vaccines directly from manufacturers and coordinate distribution to people at the highest risk of infection in affected areas.
"Vaccinating people at risk of exposure is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of hepatitis A infection during an outbreak," said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith in a press release.
According to the CDPH, the current outbreak has largely impacted homeless people and some illicit drug users. The virus can live for months in a contaminated environment, particularly in the absence of good sanitation. Nearly 80,000 doses of the vaccine obtained through the federal vaccine program have been distributed.
"Local public health officials are working hard to offer vaccines to people who are the most at the risk of infection, including homeless Californians," said Smith.
"Today's order will help ensure communities can continue to deliver the vaccines where they are needed most," she added.
California is experiencing the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in the United States since the hepatitis A vaccine became available in 1996.
San Diego Country has the worst outbreak in the state, with 490 cases confirmed as of Tuesday. The county declared a local health emergency on Sept.1 after 15 people were killed and hundreds of others were hospitalized.
Los Angeles County's Public Health Department also announced the hepatitis A outbreak on Sept. 19 and called on its people to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is usually transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.