An advisory panel recommended for the first time on Wednesday that homeless people receive vaccinations for the contagious liver disease hepatitis A.
The recommendations, from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, come at a time when infections are on the rise among homeless people.
The vaccines already were recommended for children around age 1, and among people who are more susceptible to getting infected. This includes people who travel frequently, people with blood clotting disorders, drug users, people who work with animals often, and men who have sex with men.
The recommendations would make it easier for homeless shelters, clinics, and emergency departments to offer the vaccine to homeless people.
The panel on immunizations is responsible for making recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is expected to accept the advice once it is officially written up then pass it along to healthcare workers.
People can become infected from hepatitis A when they eat or drink something that has been contaminated, or following close contact with someone who is infected. Most people who become infected do not develop severe liver damage.
The illness has spread in the homeless community, which has been living in encampments around the country, because of close quarters, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene, including lack of access to toilet facilities that allow people to wash their hands regularly. A report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that, in 2017, more than 554,000 people were homeless on any given night.
Nearly 7,400 hepatitis A infections have been reported in 10 states from April to October 2018, according to slides that were presented at the meeting and made available to the Washington Examiner. Nearly 4,200 people who were infected were hospitalized and 72 people died. The response to a hepatitis A out break in San Diego cost $12.5 million as of April.
People are supposed to get two doses of the vaccine but one dose will provide immunity for 11 years, according to the information slides from the meeting. A second vaccine protects for two decades.