Officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) report seeing an increase in hepatitis A cases in recent months. During the past three months, four cases have been reported.
While this increase in cases is unusual for this length of time, the overall number of hepatitis A cases in Maine for 2017 remains at a normal level (6 year-to-date).
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, contagious liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis A virus. Symptoms can range from a mild illness to a severe sickness that can last several months. Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, including tiredness, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, dark urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), that usually occur suddenly. Most children younger than six years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.
Hepatitis A spreads from person to person by swallowing something that is contaminated with feces from someone who is infected with hepatitis A (for example, contaminated food and water, or through fecal-oral sexual contact). Most infections occur from contact with a household member or sex partner who has hepatitis A. Hepatitis A spreads easily in areas where sanitary conditions and personal hygiene practices are poor. In the United States, hepatitis A is responsible for approximately 100 deaths annually.
To protect yourself from hepatitis A:
- Get vaccinated, especially if you are a man who has sex with men, use drugs (injection or non-injection), are homeless, have chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis B or C, or travel to areas overseas where hepatitis A is common.
- Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or engaging in sexual activity. Always wash your hands before preparing or eating food.
- Talk to a healthcare provider if you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis A.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis B, as well to make sure you are protected from hepatitis B.
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