Sarah Palermo of the Concord Monitor reported that New Hampshire 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 the only foodborne illness for which a vaccine exists; however infection can only be prevented if the vaccine is given within 14 days of exposure.

From both a public health perspective and business perspective, it makes sense for restaurants to vaccinate their employees against hepatitis A.. It is much simpler to take the initial proactive precaution rather than gamble on a mass scare that equates to potential illness, loss of business, and public uncertainty.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Symptoms may not occur for several weeks after exposure and may include abdominal discomfort, fever, malaise, muscle aches, and a yellowing of the skin called jaundice. In rare cases, hepatitis A causes liver failure.