Maine has highest hepatitis C rate in the nation, 2nd highest hepatitis B rate

Maine had the highest rate of new hepatitis C cases and the second highest rate of hepatitis B cases in 2020, according to data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis C cases in Maine have increased significantly, from 3.2 per 100,000 people in 2019 to 11.9 per 100,000 people in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. The national rate was 1.5 cases per 100,000 population in 2020.

The rate of hepatitis B cases in Maine actually declined during this time – from 4.3 per 100,000 to 3 per 100,000 – but remained higher than in all other states except West Virginia. The rate of hepatitis B nationwide was 0.7 cases per 100,000 population in 2020.

In total, more than 7,000 Maine residents live with chronic hepatitis, according to federal data.

The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the data this week to remind Maine residents to get tested and vaccinated, when appropriate.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, an organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. Severe cases can lead to hospitalization and even death.

The most common types of hepatitis are hepatitis A, an acute infection, and hepatitis B and C, which can be acute or chronic. Many people can contract hepatitis B or C without knowing it and their cases can be asymptomatic, making testing crucial.

Hepatitis A is highly contagious and can be spread through close contact or by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms often include abdominal pain, diarrhea, jaundice, and dark urine.

Hepatitis B is considered the most serious type of liver infection. If left untreated, hepatitis B will cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure, in up to one in four people. Hepatitis B is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact and injection drug use, or from an infected pregnant person to their fetus. The opioid crisis has led to a sharp increase in cases of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C is the most common infection, but most people have no symptoms. This strain is transmitted primarily through blood and can also be transmitted from an infected pregnant person to the fetus.

There are available and effective vaccines for hepatitis A and B, and the Maine CDC recommends them. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but it is treatable. Health officials also say it’s a good idea for people to get tested for hepatitis B and C, even if they have no symptoms.

Maine CDC officials said the state’s hepatitis C rate may be higher than other states because Maine has a “robust testing and reporting protocol.”

State health officials often issue warnings about possible exposure to hepatitis in public spaces in an effort to encourage others who may have been exposed to get tested.

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