The recent outbreak of pneumococcal infections in Santa Barbara County homeless shelters is under control thanks to efforts from the county Health Dept.
There were eight confirmed cases and two suspected cases of pneumococcal infections within a period of 10 days to two weeks beginning on Jan. 28, Health Dept. spokesman Dr. Elliot Schulman said. Everyone confirmed to have a pneumococcal infection has been treated and released from the hospital. Infections were reported at Casa Esperanza, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and Transition House. A total of 351 people have been vaccinated for pneumococcal infections and 166 people have been vaccinated for influenza since early February.
Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. The most common symptoms include pneumonia, sinus infections and meningitis. The bacteria are spread by respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth of an infected person. Pneumococcal outbreaks are rare, but when they occur, they often develop in group-living situations such as nursing homes, daycare centers and homeless shelters.
Schulman said the Health Dept. is conducting a study of the outbreak in order to prevent future infections.
“We went out to scout out the shelters Thursday night and got teams together,” Schulman said.
Schulman said pneumococcal infections are treatable, but if untreated could be fatal. Pneumococcal infections account for most cases of bacterial pneumonia in the country – about 500,000 cases each year – and of these cases roughly 40,000 people die.
The Health Dept. has learned from past occurrences that pneumococcal disease is sometimes preceded by other viral infections, such as the flu. Schulman said blood samples taken at the shelters would be checked for any antibodies from previous infections.
“Historically, it has been thought people carry the organism as carriers, then if the immune system is weakened, the organism can get in,” Schulman said.
Health Dept. spokeswoman Susan Forkush said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent a team of epidemiologists to study the outbreak because there were an unusual number of cases for a population of Santa Barbara’s size. The Health Dept. is in the process of interviewing and taking nasal swabs from each homeless shelter resident as well as blood samples from some residents of the shelter.
“The CDC will take the nasal and blood samples, and they will process data and send it back to us,” Forkush said.