US communities reach out to homeless as liver disease surges

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This industrial city in central Massachusetts has had many nicknames through the years, including “the Heart of the Commonwealth” and “Wormtown.” Among them was this less-known medical moniker: “Hepatitisville.” Worcester has endured several outbreaks of the liver-battering disease, including one that sidelined 90 members of a college football team in 1969.

Given its history and its size, it wasn’t surprising Worcester was hard hit when recent hepatitis A outbreaks in the state started sickening — and killing — homeless people and illicit drug users.

The surge was part of a national rise in the viral disease. Outbreaks have popped up in 17 states in the last two years, leading U.S. health officials to recommend for the first time that a routine vaccination be given specifically to homeless people.

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