AUGUSTA - The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) recognizes May as Hepatitis Awareness Month and urges Maine residents to take precautions, get vaccinated, get tested and, if necessary, seek care. More than 7,000 Mainers are counted among the millions of Americans who are living with chronic hepatitis and Maine has one of the highest rates of new hepatitis B and hepatitis C cases in the United States.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. Liver inflammation or damage can lead to severe outcomes including hospitalization and death. The most common infections causing hepatitis are hepatitis A, an acute infection, and hepatitis B and C, which can be acute or chronic infections. Across the United States, many people have hepatitis B or C and do not know about their infection; testing is critical to ensure treatment is started early.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable liver infection spread by consuming contaminated food or water as well as by close, personal contact with an infected person. Testing is recommended only for individuals with symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, jaundice, and dark urine.
Hepatitis B is the world’s most serious liver infection; left untreated, nearly one in four people living with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or liver failure. Hepatitis B virus is most commonly spread through sexual contact and injection drug use, or from an infected pregnant person to their fetus. Treatment and vaccination for hepatitis B is available.
Hepatitis C is the most common bloodborne infection in the U.S. However, most people with hepatitis C infection show no symptoms, and many remain undiagnosed and untreated. The virus is primarily spread through blood and can be passed from an infected pregnant person to their fetus. Safe and effective treatments for hepatitis C are available. Hepatitis testing is available throughout Maine. Find a testing location near you or speak with a health care provider.
Maine CDC urges all residents to:
- Get vaccinated, prevent infections: There are safe and effective vaccines against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for certain adults who were not vaccinated as children. Practicing good hand hygiene — including thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food — also plays an important role in preventing the spread of hepatitis A. Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all adults aged 18-59 years and adults aged 60 years or older with risk factors.
- Get tested, even if you have no symptoms: All adults should get tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime. Testing may be recommended more often for those with ongoing risk factors. Hepatitis B and C testing is also recommended among all pregnant people during every pregnancy, regardless of age.
- Get treated or cured: Treatment is available for hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B treatment slows damage to the liver. Hepatitis C treatment can cure hepatitis C.
More information about hepatitis: