San Diego

LAPD Officers Coming in Contact With Homeless Fear Contracting Hepatitis A

In the middle of an outbreak of hepatitis A, members of the Los Angeles Police Department say they are in danger.

The union representing members of the LAPD say the needs of the department aren't being met. They were told only 100 vaccinations could be made available to the LAPD.

LAPD Officer Dion Joseph, who has been patrolling the streets of Skid Row for nearly two decades and is working with an increased number of homeless people and illicit drug users called it a breeding ground for disease.

"This is a health and safety issue," he said.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection, often contracted through contact with feces when people don't properly wash their hands.

It has now been confirmed in 14 cases in LA County. Hundreds more were found in San Diego County among the homeless population.

Joseph is taking precautions.

"I am the type of guy that I don't want to use gloves with the people because I don't want them to think I am marginalizing them, but that has crossed my mind," he said. "I am wearing gloves a little bit more.

Brown declared an outbreak in September.

"I am always washing my hands before I touch my kids, or touch my wife," Joseph said. "That is a huge concern. Hepatitis can get you really quick."

What he and other officers want is the hepatitis A vaccine.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, says they were told they could only get 100 vaccines for their members.

"We have already had one confirmed exposure in Central Area, and one is too many," said Mark Cronin, the LAPPL director.

The union is requesting about 1,600 vaccines for officers working in at-risk areas like Skid Row, according to a letter the union sent to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

"This is a matter of being proactive and getting on this now," Cronin said.

LA County Department of Public Health officials say that since the outbreak was declared, they have been in contact with all 88 cities in the county, including city of Los Angeles and the LAPD, to offer assistance and guidance regarding vaccinations for at-risk personnel.

"We will continue to work with partner agencies and jurisdictions regarding vaccines and sanitation recommendations," officials said in a statement.

It initially recommended groups get the vaccine through their own health programs – go to a pharmacy or visit a county clinic.

Tony Bell, a spokesman for County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, vowed support.

"The county knows that you are on the front line and that you are protected with the vaccines for hepatitis A and we are going to make sure that we get those vaccinations," he said.

A spokeswoman for Supervisor Janice Hahn said the supervisor will be offering a motion instructing the health department to provide those vaccines to the LAPD and other law enforcement who may need them.

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