Hepatitis A Cases Increase Sharply in Three Maine Counties Since February

Hepatitis A (Photo: CDC)

AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded a sharp increase in hepatitis A cases in Penobscot, Somerset, and York counties over the past four months, from zero cases through February to 26 between March 1 and today, including 13 cases in Penobscot, 7 in Somerset, and 6 in York counties. In 21 of the 26 cases, there were risk factors of injection drug use or housing insecurity.

Until 2019, Maine had 7 to 10 cases of hepatitis A per year during the past decade. In 2019, Maine CDC identified 45 cases. This increase was driven by a restaurant-associated outbreak and cases related to injection drug use or housing insecurity. Since January 1, 2020, Maine CDC has identified 39 cases of Hepatitis A statewide. Recent case investigations, however, have not identified a source of the infections.

Thirty-three states have reported outbreaks of hepatitis A since 2016, primarily among people who use drugs and people experiencing homelessness. Nationally, more than 32,650 cases, 19,950 hospitalizations, and 325 deaths as a result of hepatitis A virus infection have been reported. There are currently hepatitis A outbreaks in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is through vaccination. Additionally, practicing good hand hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A.

Anyone can benefit from vaccination against hepatitis A. Maine CDC strongly recommends hepatitis A vaccination for the following individuals: people who use drugs (injection or non-injection), people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, and people who are, or were recently, incarcerated.

Hepatitis A infection is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The primary means of transmission in the United States is person-to-person, rather than through contaminated food or water. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice. These symptoms usually go away on their own, however, they can lead to serious health problems, including death, in people with already poor health (e.g., hepatitis B and C infections, chronic liver disease).

Maine CDC encourages medical providers, especially in Penobscot, Somerset, and York counties, to vaccinate at-risk individuals and ensure that vaccine supplies on hand are adequate.