Illinois launches hepatitis A vaccination program amid outbreaks

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — The state of Illinois is asking the people who are most at risk to get a hepatitis A vaccination amid outbreaks in neighboring states.

Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky are all dealing with hepatitis A outbreaks. Hundreds of people in each state are sick.

Illinois’ public health managers want to avoid the same. Last week the state launched a vaccination program.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah said people who use intravenous drugs, or sleep with people who use drugs, have the highest risk of the highly contagious liver infection. That’s where the focus will be.

“We’ll be targeting the entire state,” Shah said. “But we’ll focus on the areas of the state that we know to have high numbers of people who have admitted drug use. Or high homeless populations.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping get hepatitis A vaccines to local health departments. Most of the shots will either be free or offered at a reduced price.

“The vaccine for Hep A…is extremely effective at preventing the disease,” Shah said. “Just one dose provides well over 90 percent protection, for over nine years.”

Shah said between January of last year and April of this year, the CDC confirmed more than 2,500 hepatitis A cases, many of them on Illinois’ borders.