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PARIS -- A total of 14 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A have been diagnosed in Edgar County so far in 2019, the most of any Illinois county, as a statewide outbreak continues.

The Edgar County Health Department reported on Monday that the 14 cases are all connected to the outbreak and that one suspect case is still under investigation.

"We continue to receive new reports of hepatitis A throughout Edgar County," said Director of Nursing Jean McConkey in a press release.

McConkey said those at highest risk of infection should get a hepatitis A vaccination. She said this group includes drug users, men who have sex with men, homeless individuals, and those who feel they may have been exposed to high-risk populations.

Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said on Monday that for 2019 there have been 32 confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Illinois, of which 17 are associated with the outbreak.

Arnold said the preliminary 2018 total of 97 hepatitis A cases in Illinois includes 28 associated with the outbreak. She said the outbreak spans the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, so the case count across both years totals 45 so far.

The state reports that 11 counties have confirmed cases of hepatitis A so far this year -- Champaign, 3; Cook, 7; Douglas, 1; Edgar, 14; Ford, 2; McLean, 4; Peoria, 1; Tazewell, 2; Union, 2; Vermilion, 6; and Will, 2.

Regarding the high number of Edgar County cases, Arnold said her office continues to work closely with the local health department.

"IDPH staff have traveled to Edgar County to provide guidance and recommendations, and routine conference calls are held between the two departments. IDPH is also performing laboratory testing," Arnold said.

Arnold said the majority of hepatitis A cases in Illinois are among individuals at high risk for infection. She said most of the outbreak cases are among individuals who use illicit drugs, and the majority have been hospitalized.

"States across the country, including those bordering Illinois (Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri), have seen outbreaks with hundreds of cases," Arnold said.

The Edgar health department reported that Hepatitis A is an infection that can damage the liver and is passed easily from person to person through food, water, drug use and sex. Symptoms include jaundice, fever, fatigue, appetite loss, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, and joint pain.

"Individuals who may be infected with hepatitis A but do not seek medical treatment could be exposing dozens more people that public health officials will be unable to reach," McConkey said. "To help stop the spread of the disease and a larger outbreak, people who are infected or think they may be infected need to get treatment immediately so we can identify others who could become sick,"

Those who are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis A are urged to talk to their local health department or healthcare provider about vaccination. Arnold said the state works with local health departments to provide hepatitis A vaccine for free or at a reduced cost to those most at risk.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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