As many as 1,000 patrons of two Contoocook establishments — the American Legion and the Covered Bridge Restaurant — may have been exposed to hepatitis A and should receive a vaccination at a clinic that will open Friday in the area, a state health official said Wednesday.
Officials said they announced the possible outbreak in order to encourage exposed people to quickly receive a vaccination or immune-globulin preparation.
A bartender who worked at the Legion Hall and the restaurant came down with the disease, said Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire director of public health.
He said bartenders do not ordinarily wear gloves when preparing and serving drinks. Skin comes in contact with ice, which can transmit the Hepatitis A virus.
"If you're touching it, it works like food," Montero said.
The announcement came at a hurriedly called news conference where Montero said new facts will probably emerge as an investigation progresses. He said the risk of transmission is low, and health officials know of no customer who has been infected.
Montero said shots will be available for customers who visited the establishments between July 20 and Aug. 3.
At the Covered Bridge Restaurant, manager Jeremy Frost said the restaurant has voluntarily closed on a temporary basis. All the workers are getting tested, and it will reopen once results are known, which could take two or three days.
All workers are getting vaccinated too, he said.
"Our concerns are, obviously, with the town and our employees," he said.
He described the bartender as "very, very part-time," a woman who was filling in for another worker.
Montero said vaccinations will be available at Hopkinton High School from noon to 8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes liver disease which sometimes requires hospitalization. It's spread through improper sanitary conditions — such as inadequate handwashing — that allows fecal matter to come in contact with the mouth.
It can be spread by utensils and by sexual contact.
Symptoms usually come on quickly and may include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
People who develop hepatitis A almost always recover from the illness without further complications.
Last year, six cases were reported in New Hampshire. The Contoocook infection was the fourth so far this year.
For more information about hepatitis A you can also visit DHHS' website at www.dhhs.nh.gov or the Capital Area Public Health Network's website www.capitalareaprepares.com.