SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE - The Illinois Department of Public Health has reported six new cases of hepatitis A in the past week.
The new cases have all affected people who are at high risk of contracting the infection, which can damage the liver and is easily passed from one person to another through food, water, drug use and sex, according to the IDPH. Four of those cases have been reported in central and east-central Illinois, while two others have cropped up in suburban Cook County.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice. Seventy-five cases have been confirmed statewide in 2018, outpacing the state’s yearly average of 70 cases, according to the IDPH, which has identified 17 of this year’s cases as being part of an outbreak.
“While we are only slightly above our annual average for the number of hepatitis A cases, the accelerated rate of new cases in Illinois, not only in the past week, but the past month, is concerning,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. “We encourage those at highest risk for infection, including men who have sex with men, homeless individuals, and those who use drugs, to get vaccinated against hepatitis A.”
The IDPH is now working to make the hepatitis A vaccine more readily available by teaming with local health departments covering 41 counties across the state, the agency said. In September, the IDPH asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a “large number” of vaccines that local agencies will offer to high risk patients for free or at a reduced cost.
States across the country, including some bordering Illinois, are currently experiencing major hepatitis A outbreaks, the IDPH said. Kentucky has recorded 3,021 cases of hepatitis A since August of last year, while Indiana has reported 723 cases since last September and Missouri has tallied 234 cases since last September.