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Friday, July 19, 2024

Santa Clara County Addresses Shigella Spread in Homeless Encampments

shigella spread
The spread of shigella reaches the homeless encampments, the Shigella bacteria causes vomiting and diarrhea, which is often bloody. It is spread when people put anything that has been in contact with infected feces in their mouths, such as shaking a contaminated hand and then using it to eat.

By Joyce Chu. San Jose Spotlight.

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A bacterial outbreak has emerged among homeless people living in San Jose encampments at Columbus and Roosevelt parks, but health officials say the risk to the general public is low.

Between June 3 and 17, three confirmed cases of Shigella, a highly contagious intestinal bacteria, were identified. Two people have been hospitalized and four people are being evaluated. There are 19 suspected cases related to the same outbreak. 

Shigella bacteria cause vomiting and diarrhea, which are often bloody. It is spread when people put anything that has been in contact with infected feces in their mouths, such as shaking a contaminated hand and then using it to eat. People can also get the disease by drinking contaminated water.

“The worrying thing about this outbreak is not the absolute number. We regularly see cases of Shigella,” Dr. Monika Roy, health assistant for the county Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. “What is most worrying is the number that are related to each other.”

Mild cases of Shigella usually disappear within a week. If necessary, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Santa Clara County first learned of the Shigella cases after those who were hospitalized were tested.

Both Columbus and Roosevelt Parks are located along waterways, the former on the Guadalupe River and the latter on Coyote Creek.

Roy told San José Spotlight that the county is testing people along the waterways for the disease. Of those with confirmed and suspected cases, most did not live along the river. However, they have not tested the rivers and streams to see if there has been contamination.

“Right now, our strategy is really focused on preventing the spread,” Roy said. “The tests will not provide conclusive or definitive results of either the cause or the control mechanism.

There is a chance that Shigella could spread through waterways and contaminate other people who use the streams, Roy said, so the focus is on providing safe, sanitary water so people don't need to use the streams.

To prevent the spread of Shigella, San Jose is increasing the number of portable toilets and handwashing stations at both locations and cleaning the stations regularly. The city will also provide drinking and washing water. The county public health department has deployed teams to distribute testing kits to suspected encampments and to continue testing.

“We will continue to follow any guidance or direction from public health or authorities and experts on this, and will provide all services and supports that our unhoused residents need to ensure their safety and that of the community,” said the deputy director of the city of St. Joseph, Harkness said.

San Jose has 6,340 homeless residents, 4,411 of whom live on the streets, along rivers or in tents, according to the county's 2023 biennial homeless count. This number does not show the full picture of homelessness in the city, as it only measures people who experience homelessness on a single night. The survey is often considered an undercount.

To prevent future outbreaks among homeless people, Harkness said the city is working to build its housing capacity in the coming years.

“We have a goal of about 1,200 units in terms of shelter and we are committed to doing that over the next 12 months,” Harkness told San José Spotlight. “And we want to get people out of unhealthy and unsafe conditions. “We want to offer them a better alternative.”

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