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More than 1,100 vaccinated against hepatitis A after Contoocook bartender was diagnosed

State health officials vaccinated more than 1,100 people against the hepatitis A virus last weekend after a bartender in Contoocook was diagnosed with the contagious disease.

Vaccines are most effective against the virus if given quickly after exposure; people who visited the Contoocook Covered Bridge Restaurant and the American Legion toward the end of the potential exposure time frame – July 20 to Aug. 3 – could still benefit from receiving a vaccine and can get one at their doctor’s office or by contacting the state, said Chris Adamski, director of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Infectious Diseases.

Officials originally estimated between 600 and 1,000 people were potentially exposed. No other cases of the disease have been reported, Adamski said yesterday.

Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver and is spread when food, water or utensils are contaminated with infected fecal matter, or through sexual contact. It is not life-threatening, and the symptoms are most similar to the flu.

Symptoms often appear within 15 days of infection but can sometimes take several weeks to begin. They include fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, dark or discolored urine and gray-colored stool.

There is no treatment or cure beyond managing symptoms through rest and hydration. Symptoms usually last less than two months, and in many cases improve after two weeks.

“It can be more than an inconvenience, and if it can be avoided, you’d want to,” Adamski said. “There is a very short window that we still have. Looking from Aug. 3, the window is through this Saturday to provide the optimal protection from potential infection.”

The hepatitis A vaccine has been routinely given to children since about 2006, and once vaccinated or otherwise exposed to the virus, people are not at risk of infection.

The Contoocook Covered Bridge closed last Wednesday when state health officials received the report of the diagnosis from the worker’s physician. State officials recommended the restaurant close “largely for an opportunity for us to fully assess the whole scope of the situation and ensure that other individuals were not sick, but they closed voluntarily,” Adamski said.

Manager Jeremy Frost said the bartender is recovering and has been cleared to return to work but has not started yet.

Staff used the days when the restaurant was closed to the public to clean, update and renovate the kitchen, he said.

The restaurant had passed its most recent regular health inspection in April and was inspected again before opening Tuesday. The restaurant did not have a policy in place in April educating employees about food-borne illnesses and requiring them to report to a supervisor if they are diagnosed with one. Lacking such a policy is not considered a priority violation on a health inspection, but state officials recommend all restaurants have one, said Joyce Welch, administrator of the Food Protection Division.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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