A state of Emergency was declared by California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday, owing to a Hepatitis A outbreak which has so far claimed 18 lives in San Diego, according to NBC News reports.

The Governor, said the proclamation would allow the state to purchase the vaccine directly from the manufacturers, and distribute it to the most affected areas, as the federal-funded vaccine, was in short supply.

California is currently experiencing the largest Hepatitis A outbreak in the US since the vaccine became available in 1996.

The spread, which is from person to person is being experienced by drug users sharing needles, and the among the homeless population.

Mostly, the disease is spread through contaminated food, which is not the case in California.

Confirmed cases

So far, there have been 576 confirmed cases of the disease throughout California, with 490 of those, coming from San Diego County. Santa Cruz County has reported 71 cases, with Los Angeles County having a total of eight.

Of those infected, 386 are currently receiving treatment in various hospitals, with the highest number of patients hospitalized coming from San Diego with 342, followed by Santa Cruz with 33 and Los Angeles with six.

The first case was reported in San Diego in March, and the quick spread of the disease there is attributed to the large homeless population found in the County. The following month, Santa Cruz reported its first case, and the disease then spread to Los Angeles in September.

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Emergency funding

On Friday, US Rep.Darrel Issa urged the federal government to release emergency funding to the state to enable it to stop the spread of the deadly disease. Issa observed that the rate of infection was very high and the cases were multiplying at an alarming rate.

The legislator who represents San Diego-area, also wrote to the US Health and Human Services Department, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, requesting them to move with speed before the disease affected more communities.

While speaking to the media on Friday, Dr. Gil Chavez, an epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health, said that Governor Brown's declaration would enable the state to 'move swiftly' and place orders for the vaccine by Monday or Tuesday.

Since the outbreak begun, Chavez said the state had already distributed 81,000 federally-funded vaccines to various jurisdictions. But the supply was not enough, and a shortfall was currently being experienced.

Spread

The Hepatitis A outbreak in California comes from a rare 1B genetic subtype strain of the disease not found in the US, but common in Southern Africa and Mediterranean regions.

Spread is through contact with an infected person's feces, putting populations with poor sanitation at a greater risk. In addition to the vaccine, basic hygiene such as washing of hands is crucial in curbing its spread.