Police, firefighters face health risks when dealing with homeless populations

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It is the reality of living in the streets: no bathrooms, filthy conditions, rats.

It can lead to the spread of very dangerous diseases.

According to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore: "Certainly living in the streets of Los Angeles, in that environment, it compromises the safety and health of not only that individual but also the community where those encampments exist."

Infectious diseases that killed people in the Middle Ages are now affecting homeless populations, according to Kaiser Health News. There were cases of typhus in downtown Los Angeles.

There is also a concern regarding so-called superbugs like MRSA.

Dr. Michael Hirt from the Center for Integrative Medicine says "A superbug is a bacteria or fungus that is resistant to the most common antibiotics."

There is a scare at the LAPD's West Valley station where three officers have developed some type of skin infection. They're not sure what it is yet or how they got it.

Hirt says "Whenever there are unsanitary conditions, areas without public toilets or hand-washing facilities it's very easy to start spreading and growing these kind of superbugs - so dealing with homeless and prison populations."

The chief says the officers didn't directly interact with homeless people. The department is checking to see if it's a MRSA-type superbug disease.

Chief Moore said "What's important to us is that we have safeguards in place, including protective measures by our employees, to keep those worksites as clean and as safe as possible."

Officials say with so many homeless encampments it's a challenge to reach out to all of them.
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