North Dakota Bishop Exposes Catholics to Hepatitis A Through Communion

First Posted: Oct 28, 2013 06:04 AM EDT

An investigation by state health officials has determined that a North Dakota bishop exposed a number of churchgoers to the hepatitis A virus through the Eucharist also known as the Holy Communion in the past month.

The North Dakota Department of Health has found that the Catholic bishop John Folda, exposed several parishioners to Hepatitis A in late September and early October through communion, which he administered after he unknowingly contracted the virus from contaminated food he consumed at a conference held for the newly ordained bishops in Italy last month.  

The notification for the possible Hepatitis A virus exposure was issued to churchgoers who attended mass on September 27 at the Holy Spirit Church in Fargo, N.D.; September 29-October 2, 2013 at St. James Basilica in Jamestown, N.D.; October 6, 2013 at Cathedral of St. Mary in Fargo, N.D.; and October 7, 2012 at St. Paul's Catholic Newman Center in Fargo, N.D.

Folda issued a statement apologizing for the exposure and explaining that it was in no way intentional, "I sincerely apologize to the people who may have been exposed to the virus. I wish I had known I was ill so I could immediately refrain from participating in public activities. Unfortunately, I had no symptoms immediately following my return and during the events that have been brought to the public's attention," reports MedicalDaily.

The state health officials recommend the exposed individuals to consult their health-care provider to check if they had developed any symptoms.

Virus Hepatitis A symptoms are fever, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, tiredness, dark urine, pale stools or jaundice. These signs develop 15-50 days after being exposed to Hepatitis A and they continue for about two months. People with Hepatitis A should consider excluding themselves from activities for one week after the onset of the symptoms.

Concerned about the churchgoers who were exposed to the virus, Molly Howell-Immunization Program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health said, "The risk of people getting hepatitis A in this situation is low, but the Department of Health felt it was important for people to know about the possible exposure. Only people who attended these specific churches and had communion on these dates were possibly exposed to hepatitis A and should be tested if symptomatic. People who were exposed, but do not have symptoms, are not recommended to be tested for hepatitis A."

The virus present in the stool of the infected people generally spreads when people do not wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet and then touch their own mouths or prepare food or touch other people with contaminated hands..

Vaccination within two weeks of exposure can stem the illness. Hepatitis A can trigger serious liver problems.

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