Hepatitis B outbreak in Moncton leads to free vaccine offer

Moncton is seeing an outbreak in cases of acute hepatitis B, a virus that can be transmitted sexually and primarily affects the liver.

Province offers free vaccine to men who have sex with men in bid to curb number of cases

Dr. Yves Léger of the public health department said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of cases of hepatitis B in Moncton. (CBC)

Moncton is seeing an outbreak in cases of acute hepatitis B, a virus that can be transmitted sexually and primarily affects the liver.

The province is now offering free hepatitis B vaccines to men who have sex with men because they are primarily affected by the outbreak.

There was only one case a year of hepatitis B documented from 2003-13, said regional medical officer of health Dr. Yves Léger.

12 cases since 2014

In 2014, there were seven cases, with five of them occurring in men who have sex with men. There was only once case in 2015, but so far this year there have been four cases identified in men who have sex with men.

"We've seen a drastic increase in the number of cases, much more beyond what we would expect to see," said Léger. "And also because of the fact that it is occurring within a specific group, in which case it leads us to believe that ongoing transmission is occurring."

Léger said men who have sex with men are particularly at risk of contracting hepatitis B.

"That specific group is known as a group that has a higher risk of getting that infection, which often times can be related to a number of different lifestyle factors," he said.

"One of them can be having sexual practices that increase their risk of getting infected."

Liver affected

Gabriel Girouard, a medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont hospital, explained that the virus "causes an infection and inflammation of the liver."

Microbiologist Gabriel Girouard said liver damage from hepatitis B can be suppressed through medication. 0:55
Girouard said that while there was no cure for the disease, patients could take medication to suppress liver damage and prevent future liver cancer.

The public health department launched an awareness campaign Wednesday that encourages men who have sex with men to get the vaccine.

Mariette Leblanc, communicable disease co-ordinator for the department, said the campaign consists of putting posters in public places as well as places where many men are employed, and putting ads on web sites where people find sexual partners.

She said the vaccines will be offered anonymously at the suggestion of a focus group put together for the creation of the campaign.