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San Francisco Officials Fear Disease Will Spread At Occupy Encampment

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Poor sanitation and evidence of lice and fleas at the Occupy San Francisco encampment endanger the health of everyone in the overcrowded, makeshift tent city at Justin Herman Plaza, public health officials said Wednesday.

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"Everybody that's been down there knows it has to change," said Dr. Tomas Aragon, a public health officer who has been conducting inspections twice a day at the Occupy SF protest.

Aragon said the lack of sanitation and food safety, combined with the large quantities of debris in very tight quarters, made the Occupy encampment a tinder box for gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.

"Whenever you bring a group of people together, they're going to bring whatever they have on them," he said. "Although we have not detected an outbreak, we did identify one person, for example, that had lice."

Some Occupiers have cooperated with efforts such as the one by the SPCA to identify potentially deadly canine infections such as parvovirus.

On the other hand, some of the chronically homeless in the camp have mental health problems, including substance abuse, that have contributed to a culture of lawlessness, said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

"We've seen fist fights. There's been acts of violence," she said, problems that only appear to be growing. "There's too many people living in an environment that you're not really supposed to occupy and live in."

Aragon and Hayes-White have recommended the encampment be pared down, if not dismantled entirely before a serious outbreak of disease occurs.

City officials have pressed the demonstrators to put more space between tents and not put up large tarps. After a meeting Wednesday between Occupy SF organizers and Mayor Ed Lee, some campers seemed ready for change.

"Being able to spread out our tents and take down tarps," said Christopher Rey, one of the Occupiers, would "get rid of a shanty town and put up the protest" they had originally intended.

As the nights have cooled, the camp has gotten somewhat smaller. But those who remain said they have no plans to leave despite the possibility that a police raid could happen at any moment.

Photo caption: People visit with each other at the Occupy SF encampment along the waterfront in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.  (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

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