Southern Seven Health Department has just reported the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has identified, since September 2018, 177 person-to-person outbreak related cases, with one death, of Hepatitis A (HAV) in the state. Nationwide, there have been over 29,000 cases and over 300 deaths across 30 states. Of the two cases found in the lower seven counties of Illinois, both were reported in Union County.

HAV is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable liver infection. The infection spreads from person-to-person through ingestion of food, water or oral contact with objects -- including hands -- contaminated by feces of an infected person. Transmission occurs easily among sexual and close household contacts, and persons sharing needles and non-injected drugs.

In this report, the statewide community outbreak is spread through person-to-person contact and is not associated with international travel or foodborne related. Several of these cases are among individuals at high risk for infection -- including men who have sex with men (MSM), persons experiencing homelessness, persons who use drugs and/or persons who are currently or were recently incarcerated.

Symptoms of HAV usually start within four weeks of exposure, but can occur as early as two and as late as seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms include jaundice, diarrhea, pale-colored stools, stomach pain, dark urine, nausea, feeling tired, loss of appetite and fever. HAV infection may last a few weeks to several months. Some individuals, especially if co-infected with hepatitis B or C, may develop liver failure, resulting in death.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through a series of two vaccinations to individuals one year and older. A vaccine can be ordered and administered through Southern Seven Health Department.

Unvaccinated individuals with recent exposure should receive the hepatitis A vaccine or a shot of immune globulin to prevent severe illness. There is no treatment for hepatitis A aside from treating symptoms through rest, fluids and adequate nutrition.

Good hand hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, and avoiding high-risk behaviors also play an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A.

For more information, call Southern Seven Health Department at 618-634-2297 or visit dph.illinois.gov.

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