Local churchgoers not 'bugged' by flu germs Holy communion, sharing is still celebrated by David Lias The risk of spreading the flu has made people in Vermillion more conscious of hygiene, but they're still shaking hands and taking part in holy communion at church.
Nationally, church leaders have been watching the approaching flu season with concern.
Bishop Kenneth Angell has told Vermont Catholics that, because of the flu vaccine shortage, they should abstain from the Mass customs of sharing a chalice and shaking hands.
In Maine, Bishop Richard Malone said sharing a chalice and handshakes were always optional and that churchgoers should consider forgoing those practices if they have the flu or are worried about getting it.
But local church leaders haven't taken such major steps. Instead, they're waiting to see if the flu makes inroads into their congregations before making changes.
Marcy Lund, R.N., parish nurse at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermillion, recalls a time a couple years ago when the congregation skipped its usual "sharing of the peace" � involving a handshake or embrace � because it was the
Continued on page 10
height of the cold and flu season.
As local churchgoers prepare to attend Christmas services, however, such concerns haven't surfaced, despite this year's flu vaccine shortage.
"My personal feeling is that the personal contact of shaking hands is important, and we need do this," Lund said. "Hand washing is the most important thing in combatting the flu."
The nation is facing a shortage of flu vaccine because the bulk of this year's supply was found to be contaminated with bacteria.
As a result, health officials have restricted flu shots to high-risk groups. Everyone else is asked to take precautions to avoid spreading diseases.
Lund helped distribute holy communion at Trinity Lutheran earlier this month. Rev. Judy Johnson was battling a cold at the time, and didn't want risk passing the bug to her congregation.
"I think they (local clergy and churchgoers) are very cognizant of the facts about the flu, but I really haven't noticed any changes this year," she said.
Johnson, like Lund, remembers the concern at Trinity Lutheran two years ago that led to a brief suspension of sharing of the peace during Sunday mornings. At the time, church-goers just wanted to be sure they wouldn't be sharing something more, like a nasty germ.
"No one at our church has suggested that we not have communion," Johnson said. "But, also, we do use the individual cups, so that reduces the risk. If we were using a common cup, I think it might be that there would be people who might suggest that we not do that during flu season."
The Rev. David Hussey, priest/chaplain at United Ministries of The University of South Dakota, said a "small voice" of concern has been raised regarding the issue of flu and holy communion.
"The concern has been raised about the flu, and not just the common cold that usually goes around each year," he said. "People are fearful that the strain of flu has the potential of being deadly. What we've done, like we've always offered, is that if people don't want to receive from the common cup, they can receive by intinction, the dipping of the wafer in the wine.
"We also explain that communion is perfectly valid in either kind, so if they are comfortable in receiving the bread, they can receive just the bread and it's perfectly valid communion without the wine."
Hussey said people in his congregation also have been told they have the option of coming forward to the communion rail to simply receive a blessing from the priest.
He advises his congregation to use their best judgement when it comes time to greet one another during church services.
"During the passing of the peace, if you think you may have something, please keep it to yourself," he said, chuckling. "Don't be hugging and kissing and shaking hands with everybody. Be prudent."
Hussey said it's important, with the ever-present threat of either spreading or catching an illness like the flu during a church service, that people are given options to protect their health.
"God does protect us, but God also wants us to use some common sense and reason," he said.
The Rev. Joe Villalobos, pastor of the Faith Fellowship of the Open Bible in Vermillion, said his parishioners haven't expressed any worries about becoming ill from taking part in communion or from sharing the peace.
He suspects he knows why.
"If that were the case, we wouldn't be people of faith," he said, laughing. "What are we running from?
"But seriously, we haven't had anything like that come up as a concern or a thought or a topic of conversation by any means," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been answering the question about the risk of infectious disease transmission from a common communion cup for more than 20 years.
In 1998, the CDC included this statement in the American Journal of Infection Control:
"Although no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup, a great deal of controversy surrounds this issue; the CDC still continues to receive inquiries about this topic. "Within the CDC, the consensus of the National Center for Infectious Diseases and the National Center for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and Tuberculosis is that a theoretic risk of transmitting infectious diseases by using a common communion cup exists, but that the risk is so small that it is undetectable.
"The CDC has not been called on to investigate any episodes or outbreaks of infectious diseases that have been allegedly linked to the use of a common communion cup. However, outbreaks or clusters of infection might be difficult to detect if: (1) a high prevalence of disease (e.g., infectious mononucleosis, influenza, herpes, strep throat, common cold) exists in the community, (2) diseases with oral routes of transmission have other modes of transmission (i.e., fecal-oral, hand-to-mouth/nose, airborne), (3) the length of the incubation period for the disease is such that other opportunities for exposure cannot be ruled out unequivocally, and (4) no incidence data exist for comparison purposes (i.e., the disease is not on the reportable disease list and therefore is not under public health surveillance).
"Experimental studies have shown that bacteria and viruses can contaminate a common communion cup and survive despite the alcohol content of the wine. Therefore, an ill person or asymptomatic carrier drinking from the common cup could potentially expose other members of the congregation to pathogens present in saliva. "Were any diseases transmitted by this practice, they most likely would be common viral illnesses, such as the common cold. However, a recent study of 681 persons found that people who receive communion as often as daily are not at higher risk of infection compared with persons who do not receive communion or persons who do not attend Christian church services at all.
"In summary, the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards � that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service � would further diminish this risk. In addition, churches may wish to consider advising their congregations that sharing the communion cup is discouraged if a person has an active respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu."
Villalobos notes that there are several potential ways to catch the flu � from dining in a restaurant, to having normal social contact with a group of people.
"If you're going to get it, it's going to come in many other ways than communion," he said, adding with a chuckle, "If I'm going to get it (the flu), I'd just as soon get it by taking communion than any other way."