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Free Vaccines For Some Illinoisans Helping Prevent Hep A Outbreak

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by a virus. It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe cases that require hospitalization.

Dr. Nirav Shah is the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). He says that Illinois currently has a lower number of cases compared to surrounding states that are experiencing outbreaks.

“So states across the country including states that border Illinois have been seeing Hepatitis A outbreaks. Right now in Illinois we are not at an outbreak stage; thus far for the year to date we have seen approximately 50 cases of Hepatitis A that have been reported in counties across the state. That contrasts with states such as our neighbors including Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana that have seen into the thousands of cases.”

Symptoms of the virus start around four weeks after someone has been exposed. The contagious liver infection causes nausea, poor appetite, yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), and fever among other symptoms.

Shah says that the best way to be prepared is getting vaccinated against the virus. 

“We recommend that everyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine get vaccinated. And the vaccine is one that’s very effective; it can be administered to children starting at age 1, as well as individuals with other risk factors. It’s extremely effective and extremely safe at preventing Hepatitis A.”

IDPH has been distributing free Hepatitis A vaccines to local health departments across the state. Shah encourages people to call or visit their local health department, especially if they have certain risk factors.

"What we know from data from other states is that the risk factors that predispose someone to Hepatitis A include being homeless, using injection or non-injection drugs, or being a man who has sex with other men. Anyone with those risk factors we strongly urge them to call or go visit their local health department so that they can get a free vaccine."

WNIJ's Claire Buchanan contributed to this report.