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Hepatitis A May Have Been Spread by Holy Communion at Long Island Church

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Hundreds of people who attended Mass at a Long Island, NY church on Christmas Day, as well as the day after, may have been exposed to Hepatitis A if they received Holy Communion. One of the individuals involved in the distribution of communion at Our Lady Our Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park was diagnosed with Hepatitis A after the Christmas holiday.

Some leftover communion wafers that the infected individual handled on Christmas Day were mixed with others and used at Masses on December 26. According to the Nassau County Department of Health, those who received Holy Communion at the 10:30 a.m. and noon Christmas Day Masses, as well as the 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Masses on December 26, could have been exposed to the virus.

Individuals exposed to hepatitis A should receive immune globulin (IG) or a hepatitis A vaccination within 2 weeks of exposure to a person who is contagious with hepatitis A infection. Individuals who have been vaccinated for hepatitis A or who have had the illness in the past are protected from hepatitis A infections, and there is no need for further action.

The symptoms of Hepatitis A may range from mild to severe and include an abrupt onset of fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). The disease is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without any complications. The symptoms commonly appear within 28 days of exposure, with a range of 15-50 days. There are no special medicines or antibiotics that can be used to treat a person once symptoms appear. Generally bed rest is all that is needed. Thorough hand washing after bathroom use and before, during and after food preparation is the most important means to prevent the spread of this and other intestinal illnesses. Sharing of food and utensils should be discouraged especially whenever anyone is ill.

While it is generally not fatal, Hepatitis A does account for approximately 100 deaths each year in the U.S. People greater than 50 years old are at a 5- 10 times greater risk of having a fatal outcome due to Hepatitis A compared with all ages combined. Furthermore, it has been shown that when a person with another liver disease, such as chronic Hepatitis C or B, becomes infected with Hepatitis A, they may experience a particularly serious and potentially life-threatening form of hepatitis.

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