Since an Olive Garden food server in Fayetteville, NC tested positive for hepatitis A and alerted restaurant management one week ago, the Cumberland County Health Department has immunized an estimated 3,000 people who may have been exposed to the virus during eight days in late July and early August.

The health department set up a walk-in clinic to administer the shots and will continue to give the free shots today. Fort Bragg officials also set up an on-post clinic for soldiers and their families who may have been exposed to the virus.

The only reported case of illness is the restaurant employee.

In a news release, the health department said it was important that the public understand that both immune globulin (also called gamma globulin) and hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection only if given within 14 days of exposure. 

It said only individuals who visited the Olive Garden at 234 North McPherson Church Road anytime on July 28, 29, 31 and Aug. 1, 2 and 8 should receive a free injection of hepatitis A immune globulin or vaccine.

The hepatitis A virus is usually spread through food contaminated with fecal matter. Restaurant patrons can be exposed if a cook or server doesn’t wash his or her hands properly after using the restroom, for instance.

Infection leads to liver swelling and sometimes produces symptoms such as fever, nausea, and joint pain, although infections are often mild and cause no symptoms. Though complications can occur, hepatitis A is much less serious than hepatitis B or C and generally clears up on its own within about eight weeks.