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Tourists came to San Diego for Metallica, left with hepatitis A

Lauryn Schroeder, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN DIEGO -- Three friends from Salt Lake City visited San Diego in early August for the Metallica concert at Petco Park. Two of them unknowingly brought home an unwelcome souvenir.

Mike Johnson, 43, was diagnosed with hepatitis A on Sept. 14, a little more than a month after his trip to San Diego. By that time, his eyes and skin had turned a shade of yellow and doctors told him he was nearing liver failure.

"It was a nightmare. I was sleeping 14 to 16 hours a night," Johnson said. "I couldn't walk more than 100 feet without getting tired."

Johnson's friend, Josh Oviatt, 44, spent four days in the hospital.

"It was a phenomenal weekend, but we're paying for it now," Johnson said. "I essentially sacrificed six months of my life for that one weekend of fun."

The third friend, Mike Rinna, 51, had previously been vaccinated for hepatitis A and did not get sick.

The San Diego outbreak has killed 20 people and more than 370 have required hospitalization. As of Tuesday, the county has tallied 544 people infected, and new cases continue to crop up. It's one of the worst outbreaks the nation has seen in decades.

Johnson and Oviatt are unusual cases. Homeless individuals and illicit drug users represent the majority of cases and are considered most at-risk, according to county health officials. The virus is being spread from feces to mouth so unsanitary conditions -- particularly among the region's growing homeless population -- make it more likely to spread.

It's rare for the public to know anything about those who have contracted the disease. Health officials have been hesitant to release specifics on where cases are concentrated and who has been exposed, citing state and federal health privacy laws.

The weekend of the concert, Johnson said he and his friends "had a ball," riding bikes on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, swimming in a hotel pool downtown, and eating and drinking at local bars and restaurants.

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