The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is offering free vaccines to people who use Portland homeless shelters after a case of hepatitis A was identified in someone who stayed at two shelters in the city.

The person who tested positive for hepatitis A stayed at the Oxford Street Shelter and Florence House and spent time during the day at Preble Street Resource Center between Oct. 1 and 21 while infectious, according to a spokesman for the Maine CDC.

The case is of concern because several states across the country are having outbreaks of hepatitis A infections, especially among people who are homeless or using drugs, according to the Maine CDC. Sharing used needles is a major risk factor for transmitting all forms of hepatitis.

The Maine CDC will hold a free hepatitis A vaccination clinic at Preble Street Resource Center for anyone who stayed at Oxford Street or Florence House between Oct. 1 and 21. Vaccines will be administered by public health nurses from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 4 p.m. Thursday. Maine has had six cases of hepatitis A so far this year, according to the Maine CDC.

“Although we only have a single case at this time, we are proactively holding this clinic to protect those who might have been exposed,” the Maine CDC director, Dr. Bruce Bates, said in a statement. “We want to prevent the spread of this disease and hopefully avoid an outbreak situation like several U.S. states are currently experiencing, such as Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Utah and California.”

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can be prevented by vaccine. It is spread through the sharing of things like cups, utensils, towels, cigarettes, pipes and syringes, and through sexual contact.

It can also be spread through contaminated food or water, especially in food prepared by a person who is infected.

Hepatitis A is responsible for about 100 deaths annually in the United States.

Hepatitis has been linked to the opioid crisis, and the more common forms of hepatitis – B and C – have seen increasing numbers of cases correlating to the rise in drug overdose deaths in Maine.

Maine has had 202 cases of hepatitis B, including chronic and acute forms, through September of this year, and 1,467 cases of hepatitis C.

In 2017, Maine, including chronic and acute forms of the disease, had 256 cases of hepatitis B and 1,908 cases of hepatitis C, both high-water marks since at least 2008, according to the Maine CDC.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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