Maine has the highest rate of hepatitis C in the country, the second highest rate of hepatitis B

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 risen dramatically 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 people in 2020.

Maine’s hepatitis B case rate actually fell during that time — from 4.3 per 100,000 to 3 per 100,000 — but remained higher than any other state except West Virginia. The rate of hepatitis B nationwide was 0.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2020.

A total of more than 7,000 Maine residents are living with chronic hepatitis, according to federal records.

Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention released the data this week to remind Maine residents to get tested and vaccinated if necessary.

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

The most common hepatitis infections are hepatitis A, which is an acute infection, and hepatitis B and C, which can be acute or chronic. Many people can get 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 eating contaminated food or water. Symptoms often include abdominal pain, diarrhea, jaundice, and dark urine.

Hepatitis B is considered the most serious form of liver infection. Left untreated, hepatitis B will cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure, in nearly one in four people. Hepatitis B is usually spread through sexual contact and injection of drugs, or from an infected pregnant person to their fetus. The opioid crisis has led to a sharp rise in the number of cases of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C is the most common infection, but most people show no symptoms. That strain is mainly spread through blood and can also be passed from an infected pregnant person to the foetus.

There are available and effective vaccines for both hepatitis A and B, and the Maine CDC recommends them. There is no vaccine against 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 will often issue warnings about possible exposure to hepatitis in public areas in an effort to encourage others who may have been exposed to get tested.

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