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Tainted Communion Exposes Catholics to Hepatitis A

A health scare in the suburbs of New York City -- hundreds of parishioners who took communion on Christmas Day may have been exposed to hepatitis A.

The Nassau County health department confirms someone involved in the communion process at the Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park tested positive for hepatitis A.

The church held two masses on Christmas. Some 7,500 people belong to the church. It's not clear how many of them took communion, but Christmas services are always popular and typically the majority of those attending Mass take communion.

"It was probably a full church," said Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He said when things get too busy, authorized Eucharistic ministers help priests give communion. That church has 30 such ministers.

"We don't want to jump to conclusions," he said. "Obviously, it's very concerning when there's potential exposure to any sort of virus."

Health department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said, "We feel the transmission [risk] is low." However, she warned, "to protect the public from potential illness, those who received Holy Communion on December 25 should receive prophylactic treatment."

The health department is offering immune globulin injections or the hepatitis A vaccine to those who attended either of the Masses.

Hepatitis A is not as dangerous as hepatitis B and C.

"Hepatitis A can make you pretty sick. Most people will get flulike symptoms, diarrhea, on occasion some people will have jaundice," said Dr. Melissa Palmer, medical director of NYU Hepatology Associates in Plainview. "But unlike hepatitis B and C, it does not lead to chronic liver disease."

Hepatitis A outbreaks are often associated with food handled by a carrier who has ineffectively washed his or her hands after using the bathroom. Dr. Palmer said it has a "fecal/oral route of transmission."


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