SWAN’S ISLAND — An outbreak of hepatitis A has resulted in the death of a summer resident and the hospitalization of another, according to health officials.
In all, six cases of acute hepatitis A have been identified. All six cases have been traced to the same house, where out-of-state residents were staying in July and earlier this month. Swan’s Island is located off Mount Desert Island in Hancock County.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday evening that state officials have been to the island to investigate the possible cause of the outbreak. She said the person who died passed away out of state and that the person who is hospitalized also is out-of-state. Mills declined to offer more details about the patients because of privacy concerns.
“It doesn’t appear to be a mysterious cause, but they weren’t all in the same house at the same time,” Mills said. “People who have visited that household have all been contacted.”
State health officials have tested the house’s septic system and believe it may have been malfunctioning, according to Mills. She said they also have tested the house’s well and nearby clam flats, which now are closed to shellfish harvesting. Results of the tests are not expected to come back until later this week, she said.
Mills said it is possible that the disease may have spread into the surrounding community from the house but emphasized that state officials have no reason to believe that this has happened.
“The test results will give us a better idea of where it came from,” she said. “It’s nothing to panic about. It is something [island residents] should know about.”
According to an advisory issued by Maine CDC late last week, four of the identified cases have been confirmed, including the fatality and the hospitalized patient, and two are probable. The disease can result in mild illness in children while in adults it can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. On average, 11 cases of hepatitis A are identified in Maine each year, the advisory indicated.
“Good hand washing is key to limiting disease transmission,” the advisory said.
The most recent outbreak in Maine occurred in the fall of 2008 at Kennebunk Elementary School, when seven or eight people contracted the disease, according to Mills.
Mills said the disease has a long incubation period and can lie dormant for weeks before symptoms become apparent. Anyone exhibiting symptoms such as diarrhea, fatigue, fever or nausea should consult a physician, she said.
“If they have symptoms, they should be seen right away,” Mills said. “The sooner the better.”