Maine CDC Encourages Steps to Protect Your Health from Hepatitis C

AUGUSTA– As Hepatitis Awareness Month in May concludes this week, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is encouraging Maine people to take steps to protect their health from these viral illnesses.

The Maine CDC is highlighting new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) screening requirements for hepatitis C. The U.S. CDC now recommends that every adult get tested for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime, pregnant people get tested during each pregnancy, and everyone with ongoing risk factors get tested regularly. Additionally, infants exposed to hepatitis C during pregnancy and childbirth should be tested for hepatitis C between 2–6 months of age and monitored by a health care provider with hepatitis C expertise until they are eligible to receive treatment at 3 years of age.

“Viral hepatitis remains a significant public health concern here in Maine,” said Dr. Puthiery Va, Director of the Maine CDC. “The Maine CDC is working to ensure all Maine people and health care providers are aware of the updated testing recommendations and availability of effective treatment. By focusing on prevention and treatment of hepatitis C, we can help protect the health of Maine people.”

Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver and can cause serious health problems, including liver damage and liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, treatments are highly effective, well-tolerated, and can cure most people in as little as eight weeks.

New hepatitis C infections have increased nationally as a result of the opioid crisis, misinformation about treatment, stigma, and other social determinants of health, leading to a new generation at risk of future liver cancer, cirrhosis, and premature death. Meanwhile, approximately 40 percent of people living with chronic hepatitis C are unaware of their status. In 2022, Maine again had the highest rate of new hepatitis C infections in the United States. New data spanning 2013 through 2022 revealed that only a third of people with a documented hepatitis C diagnosis nationally were cured over the past decade. For patients without health insurance under the age of 40, only one in six has been cured. Nationally, hepatitis C kills more people than HIV/AIDS.

To increase access to hepatitis C testing and treatment, the Maine CDC is strengthening patient navigation and linkages to care to help people with hepatitis C engage in care and curative treatment. As part of Hepatitis Awareness Month, Maine CDC reaffirms its commitment to making Maine a place where new hepatitis C infections are prevented, every person knows their status, and every person with viral hepatitis has access to high-quality health care and treatment free from stigma and discrimination.

Hepatitis C is one form of the viral disease. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis Ahepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. If symptoms occur with an acute infection, they can appear anytime from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure. Symptoms of acute hepatitis can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice. Symptoms of chronic viral hepatitis can take decades to develop.

What individuals can do:

  1. Complete a simple, confidential form to be referred to a Hepatitis Navigator, who will help individuals find hepatitis C testing and treatment services that meet their unique needs.
  2. Talk to your provider about being tested for hepatitis B and C.
  3. Get safe and effective vaccines against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Vaccines are available at many pharmacies throughout Maine.
  4. Practice good hand hygiene – including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food – to prevent the spread of hepatitis A.
  5. Join the Hep Free NNE Planning group: Make your voice a part of the solution to viral hepatitis. New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have joined forces to eliminate viral hepatitis in Northern New England. You are the key to success.

The Maine CDC is a founding member of Hepatitis Free Northern New England – or Hep Free NNE – a New Hampshire-based collaboration involving the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS), the Maine CDC, the Vermont Department of Health (VT DOH), and partners across diverse sectors spanning all three states. The goal of Hep Free NNE is to develop a five-year regional viral hepatitis B and hepatitis C elimination plan to provide actionable, evidence-based localized strategies to be implemented by each state’s health department.