A woman receives a Hepatitis A vaccine. Courtesy Centers for Disease Control

The county of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency Friday expanded its list of people who should be vaccinated for hepatitis A to include those who handle food.

The HHSA’s action comes in the midst of a local outbreak of the disease that has taken 14 lives and sent 264 people to hospitals.

“This is a pro-active recommendation because the ongoing outbreak means that the risk to the general public is higher than normal,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer.

“A person who becomes infected with hepatitis A may spread the disease to others before experiencing symptoms,” Wooten said. “In an occupation such as handling food, workers may expose more members of the public than workers in other occupations.”

According to the HHSA, no common sources of food, beverage or drugs have been identified that have contributed to his outbreak, although an investigation continues.

Around 70 percent of the cases have been among people who are homeless, use illicit drugs or a combination of those two factors, the HHSA reported. County health officials said they’ve been increasing efforts to vaccinate those people, as well as others who come in contact with them.

The HHSA previously recommended the vaccine to people involved in public safety, sanitation, homeless shelters, and behavioral and homeless service providers.

Food handlers can get the vaccination from their occupational health provider, health care provider or a local pharmacy that carries the vaccine. A prescription is not needed to get the vaccination, the HHSA said.

The vaccine is also available to uninsured or underinsured individuals for no cost at county public health centers. A list of locations is available by calling 2-1-1 or going online to sdiz.org.

—City News Service