Maine CDC Press Release

January 18, 2005

State Plan to Combat Viral Hepatitis

Contact:  
Mary Kate Appicelli,
Hepatitis Coordinator
Bureau of Health, Division of Disease Control
Tel: (207) 287-3817
TTY: (207) 287-8066

Augusta—Although thousands of Mainers are affected by viral hepatitis, many are unaware that they are infected or at risk. With the potential for outcomes such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or death, earlier rather than later intervention is essential.

Today, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Health released a 3-year plan for confronting this emerging health issue. The publication, entitled, “Viral Hepatitis Prevention and Control: An Action Plan for Maine,” was created after receiving input from a statewide group of 70 experts and patient advocates. “The most important thing a person can do to prevent viral hepatitis is to become informed. If you think you are at risk, ask your health care provider for information about testing or vaccination,” said Dr. Lani Graham, Acting Director of the Bureau of Health.

The Plan includes goals, objectives, and action steps describing how to prevent new hepatitis infections as well as how to help persons who are already infected.

Core components of the Plan include strategies for advocacy and funding, medical and social service provider education, general public education, care and support for persons infected, and prevention of new infections.

Some major activities outlined in the Plan include:

Educating Maine health care providers, social service providers, and allied health workers about viral hepatitis. Developing a statewide viral hepatitis media campaign for the general public. Educating persons at highest risk about viral hepatitis. Creating a grassroots advocacy network for persons affected by and infected with hepatitis C. Creating a statewide viral hepatitis coalition to increase funding for prevention, testing, and treatment. Creating Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE) for primary health care providers to obtain clinical guidance on complex viral hepatitis cases. Developing an Integrated, Coordinated, Comprehensive System (ICCS) of care and support for persons at-risk for and/or infected with hepatitis C.

Viral hepatitis refers to infections caused by several different viruses that affect the liver: hepatitis A, B, and C. All of these viruses cause acute, or short-term viral hepatitis. The hepatitis B and C viruses can also cause chronic or long-term hepatitis. Hepatitis A is found in the feces of a hepatitis A-infected person and is most commonly spread either by person-to-person contact or ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B and C are found in blood and certain body fluids. Both viruses are spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of a non-infected person. While there are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B, there is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.

Each year, approximately 1,300 cases of viral hepatitis are reported to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Health. Chronic hepatitis C accounts for the majority of the reported cases and greatest burden of disease. With an estimated 20,000 persons in Maine infected, fewer than 30 percent are aware of their hepatitis C infection status. As a result, opportunities for preventive and therapeutic care that could slow or eliminate the progression of the disease are lost.

To obtain a copy of the Plan or to learn about viral hepatitis and/or hepatitis testing and vaccination resources in Maine, check out: www.mainepublichealth.org. Click on “Hepatitis Program.”