The bishop of the Fargo Catholic Diocese in North Dakota exposed potentially hundreds of church members in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown to the hepatitis A virus in late September and early October, the Associated Press reports.
The state Health Department has issued an advisory of exposure for anyone who attended five churches and took communion within the last month.
Although risk is low, State Immunization Program Manager Molly Howell says officials feel it's important the that public knows about the possible exposure.
The diocese announced Monday that Bishop John Folda is taking time off after being diagnosed with hepatitis A. Folda contracted the liver infection through contaminated food during a conference for newly ordained bishops in Italy last month.
The bishop was ordained in June and was busy traveling since. But starting Oct. 10, he was given time off due to the virus, diocese spokeswoman Aliceyn Magelky said.
“He has improved greatly,” Magelky said. “He is doing just fine; he is slowly getting back to his regular schedule.”
One church member who was exposed said she isn’t too worried.
“We pray for (Folda), and I’m not too worried about getting hepatitis,” Terry Pennebaker of Fargo, told WDAY-TV.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease and can range in severity, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. It can be a mild illness that lasts only a few weeks to a severe illness that lasts several months.
The disease can spread when a person ingests fecal matter, even in the smallest amounts from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool of an infected person, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal discomfort.
The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated.
It is not known how many people in Fargo were actually infected.
Sources: The Associated Press, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, WDAY-TV