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MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (CBS 2 / WCBS 880) – It’s not what you normally think about on your way to church.
But on Tuesday night parishioners were returning to pray for good health and to receive injections after being exposed to a potentially dangerous virus.
The medical visit was made necessary after a hepatitis “A” scare, reports CBS 2’s John Metaxas.
Parishioners streamed in to Our Lady of Lourdes church Tuesday for their hepatitis vaccinations. Some were shocked that their Christmas morning communion could possibly be tainted by hepatitis A.
“We’ve been going to mass for years and years, never had a problem, never expected a problem,” Leo Fabrizio said.
“It’s very upsetting. We are old and we take medication,” Peggy Fabrizio added.
Others took it in stride.
“It’s not that serious the type-A hepatitis, but I figured I’d come and get the shot,” Barbara Smith said.
The Nassau County Health Department is offering the free vaccines at the church after it learned a person involved in the communion process was diagnosed with hepatitis A during Christmas church services.
And that could put any of the more than 1,300 people who took communion at either the 10:30 a.m. or noon masses at risk.
“In this situation it seems the communion process was the risk of exposure,” said Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Maria Torroella Carney.
Health officials said hepatitis A can only be transmitted from hand to mouth and thus it was the host — the wafer — that might have been affected, not the communion wine. They wouldn’t say who was infected, only that it was someone who handled the host, but not necessarily the person who administered communion.
“It’s very sad. I had Legionnaires. I don’t take the wine. Can I take communion? It’s a little scary,” Peggy Fabrizio said.
Diocese spokesman Sean Dolan said the infected person will not be allowed to participate in communion until being cleared by a doctor.
“They will not be involved in the process and the diocese says it is reinforcing the message of the need to sanitize hands,” Dolan said.
“The thought went through my mind a while ago, if they can use surgical gloves,” Leo Fabrizio said. “Do that. But I don’t know how that would appear in church. After all, it’s a holy place.”
It’s a holy place that on Tuesday was forced to take a medical precaution.
Symptoms of hepatitis A can range from mild to severe, and include an abrupt onset of fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark colored urine and jaundice.
Officials were urging parishioners to take advantage of the free treatment, which will be available until 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.