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Homes now. Prevent ancient disease outbreaks seen in California

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[Bulletin: Not having a home doesn’t cause tuberculosis but it can hurt our health. Having a large group of long term homeless people does create conditions for outbreaks of deadly diseases that we thought were gone. If we can’t take care of our health, then homeless people, like everyone else, are going to cause outbreaks and public health crises.]

 

Medieval Diseases Are Infecting California’s Homeless

…Los Angeles recently experienced an outbreak of typhus—a disease spread by infected fleas on rats and other animals—in downtown streets. Officials briefly closed part of City Hall after reporting that rodents had invaded the building.

Public-health officials and politicians are using terms like disaster and public-health crisis to describe the outbreaks, and they are warning that these diseases can easily jump beyond the homeless population.

“Our homeless crisis is increasingly becoming a public-health crisis,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in his State of the State speech in February, citing outbreaks of hepatitis A in San Diego County, syphilis in Sonoma County, and typhus in Los Angeles County.

“The hygiene situation is just horrendous” for people living on the streets, says Glenn Lopez, a physician with St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, who treats homeless patients in Los Angeles County. “It becomes just like a Third World environment, where their human feces contaminate the areas where they are eating and sleeping.”

Those infectious diseases are not limited to homeless populations, Lopez warns: “Even someone who believes they are protected from these infections [is] not.”

At least one Los Angeles city staffer said she contracted typhus in City Hall last fall. And San Diego County officials warned in 2017 that diners at a well-known restaurant were at risk of hepatitis A.

New York City, where the majority of the homeless population lives in shelters rather than on the streets, has not experienced the same outbreaks of hepatitis A and typhus, says Kelly Doran, an emergency-medicine physician and assistant professor at New York University. But Doran says different infections occur in shelters, including tuberculosis, a disease that spreads through the air and typically infects the lungs.

 

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