Contoocook bartender diagnosed with hepatitis A, patrons urged to get tested

Last modified: 8/8/2013 12:36:20 AM
People who ate at the American Legion or Covered Bridge restaurant in Contoocook on or after July 20 are being asked to get tested for the hepatitis A virus after a bartender there tested positive.

No other cases have been reported yet, but as many as 1,000 people may need to be tested, said Jose Montero, director of the state Division of Public Health.

The division is offering vaccination clinics tomorrow from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hopkinton High School. Babies younger than 12 months and people over age 40 should not get the vaccine but will be given immune globulin, antibodies that provide immediate protection but that wear off after several months, unlike vaccines.

The 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, Montero said.

The families, co-workers and friends of people who ate at the restaurants are not at risk and do not need to be vaccinated, he said.

Hepatitis A is a contagious 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.

All of the information released yesterday is preliminary and may change as the state continues to investigate and identify the exact days the bartender worked, Montero said.

There is “no particular reason” to question the health practices at either restaurant, said Montero.

“We had a couple of inspections in recent months at both places and they were fine, and we don’t have any previous complaints around that,” Montero said.

However, because the employee worked as a bartender, and because both establishments are small, there is still concern that he or she may have spread the disease to others.

“If you have good hand hygiene, that’s great. But you can expect bartenders to touch ice or touch garnishes that go on drinks. And in small places, it’s all hands on deck. If they are short-staffed, a bartender can go and move plates or put garnishes on food,” Montero said.

The infection does not appear to be linked to a recent outbreak of hepatitis A in more than 100 people in the western United States, attributed to contaminated frozen fruit, he said.

Hepatitis A is one of many diseases that must be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services when it is diagnosed. The patient’s physician contacted the state when a test result was positive, Montero said.

This is the fourth case of hepatitis A in New Hampshire this year; there were six cases in 2012, according to a news release from the division. The last case requiring public notification and vaccinations happened in 2004.

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

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