BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In the past few years, there have been significant outbreaks of Hepatitis A among homeless populations in other parts of the country, like San Diego and Detroit. Now Erie County health officials say a homeless man was infected at Buffalo City Mission, and they are trying to prevent a similar outbreak.
“We have to worry, we have to be a little bit more aggressive about the homeless population contracting Hepatitis A compared to the general population,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner.
This morning, 96 free vaccinations were administered at the Buffalo City Mission to people who may have been exposed to Hepatitis A. Anyone who stayed at or visited the mission between January 24th and February 4th could be at risk, after a homeless man who stayed there tested positive.
“Hepatitis A is fecal oral transmission and so there are specific activities you’d need to engage in to potentially be exposed. So eating here, sharing food, sharing a bag of potato chips,” said Dr. Gale Burstein.
Dr. Burstein says other risk factors include sleeping near the infected man and sharing the same bathroom as him.
“We really want to make sure we’re aggressive and try to offer post exposure profilaxis so those individuals will not get infected,” said Dr. Gale Burstein.
Although health officials are acting with urgency, the City Mission Senior Director says there is no reason to be fearful.
“Because we do keep records of who comes and goes, the dates they come in, the dates they leave, it actually was quite easy to hone down the number of people who were at potential risk in the time frame that was identified to us,” said Yvonne Banks, Buffalo City Mission Senior Director.
She admits that accessing homeless people is a challenge, but the City Mission is working with other homeless providers in the community to reach them.
“Our homeless community is very small everybody knows who is who so the word is getting out there,” said Nadia Pizarro, Chair of WNY Coalition for the Homeless.
Hepatitis A is contagious but it can take weeks before someone shows symptoms.
Officials say the Buffalo man who was infected is no longer a risk.
“The particular individual who was identified has not had repetitive exposure and really is following the necessary protocols,” said Banks.