Second Contoocook bartender diagnosed with hepatitis A
A second employee at the Covered Bridge Restaurant in Contoocook has tested positive for hepatitis A, and health officials are advising customers who have yet to be vaccinated for the virus to do so as soon as possible.
No other new cases of the infection have been reported, according to officials.
Jose Montero, director of the state Division of Public Health Services, emphasized yesterday there is a “low risk” of exposure. Still, he said, between 100 and 200 people who visited the restaurant Aug. 13 or 20 may have come in contact with the virus. He recommended that anyone who ate there Aug. 20 be vaccinated by at least Tuesday, after which the vaccine will no longer be effective.
The division organized a vaccination clinic last night at Bow High School and is holding another at the same location today from 9 a.m. to noon.
People who ate at the restaurant Aug. 13 and have not been treated should watch for symptoms of the infection, Montero said, including fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, dark or discolored urine and gray-colored stool.
Montero said the second infection is linked to the first, which was discovered three weeks ago, but he would not specify how. Hepatitis A, a virus that attacks the liver, is spread through sexual contact or when food, water or utensils are contaminated by infected fecal matter. Both infected employees are part-time bartenders at the restaurant.
Donna Walter, who owns the eatery, said the two are roommates and close friends. She said the most-recently diagnosed employee had been caring for the first as the illness progressed.
Officials also are looking into a handful of private catering events with which the two had assisted and said that attendees of those are being contacted individually.
The restaurant, which closed temporarily after the first case was reported by the employee’s physician, is open and cooperating with health officials, Montero said. Though the space had already passed a health inspection earlier this year, it was recently cleaned and updated, and has again been approved for operation by the division.
“We have no concerns with the restaurant at this point,” Montero said.
Officials have also been in close contact with the restaurant since the first infection was reported and have been monitoring the health of employees. Montero said that process will continue for several weeks.
Several employees have been vaccinated, which decreases the threat of infection, Montero said. Still, he said it’s nearly impossible to predict whether additional infections will surface.
“Exposures that took place before we knew may be incubating,” he said. “We don’t know.”
The source of the original infection is still unclear. Walter said it may have resulted from a trip the first employee recently took to Chicago.
Walter said business at the restaurant had dropped 40 percent since the first diagnosis, and she feared it would plummet further if people immediately assumed the cases had been transmitted there.
Children younger than 12 months and people over age 40 should avoid the vaccine and instead be treated with immune globulin, antibodies that provide immediate protection but will wear off after several months, unlike vaccines.
The families, co-workers and friends of people who ate at the restaurant are not at risk and do not need to be vaccinated.
Anyone with further questions regarding the infection may contact the New England Poison Control Center at 1-800-562-8236.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)