The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded a sharp increase in cases of hepatitis A in Penobscot, Somerset and York counties over the past four months, it said Friday.

There were zero cases in those counties of hepatitis A in the first two months of 2020, but since March 1, the center has recorded 26 cases, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said. Those cases include 13 in Penobscot County, seven cases in Somerset County and six in York county. According to the CDC, in 21 of the 26 cases, there were risk factors of injection drug use or housing insecurity.

Long said the U.S. CDC predicted a potential rise in hepatitis A cases during the pandemic due to many public facilities being closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Places where people experiencing homelessness use to clean up, such as public bathrooms and restaurant bathrooms, are closed,” said Long. “It could also be that the nationwide outbreaks of hepatitis A has worked its way to Maine.”

The Maine CDC has typically reported between seven and 10 cases of hepatitis A per year over the past decade, but in 2019, it identified 45 cases, driven by restaurant-associated outbreaks and cases related to injection drug use or housing insecurity. There have been a total of 39 reported cases of the disease statewide since Jan. 1, 2020.

Recent case investigations have not identified a source of the Penobscot, Somerset and York county infections, according to the Maine CDC.

Other hepatitis A outbreaks in Maine this year include cases recorded among workers at restaurants including the Sea Salt Lobster Restaurant in Saco in June, and at Joseph’s Market in Waterville in January.

Hepatitis A infection is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The Maine CDC says the best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination, though good hand hygiene also plays an important role in preventing its spread. Maine CDC strongly recommends hepatitis A vaccination for people who use drugs (injection or non-injection), people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men and people who are, or were recently, incarcerated.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.