Maine CDC Press Release

February 13, 2020

Hepatitis A Cases Rose Sharply in Kennebec, Aroostook, and York Counties in 2019

AUGUSTA – Maine saw a fivefold increase in hepatitis A cases last year, with the number of reported cases climbing from nine in 2018 to 45 in 2019.

Twelve cases were linked to a foodborne outbreak in Aroostook County that ended last summer. Another 12 were in Kennebec County and six were in York County.

A quarter of all cases had risk factors such as injection drug use or housing insecurity. Another quarter of the cases were related to food service employees working while ill with hepatitis A. Three of the cases have been linked to outbreaks in other states among people experiencing homelessness and people who used drugs.

Thirty states across the country have reported outbreaks of hepatitis A, primarily among people who use drugs and people experiencing homelessness. Since the hepatitis A outbreaks were first identified in 2016, nationally more than 15,000 cases, 8,500 hospitalizations, and 140 deaths as a result of hepatitis A virus infection have been reported. There are currently hepatitis A outbreaks in New Hampshire 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. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) particularly 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 has worked with medical providers, especially in Kennebec, Aroostook, and York counties, to encourage vaccination among at-risk individuals and supports providers by ensuring that vaccine supplies are adequate.

For more information on hepatitis A, visit: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.