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More churchgoers may have hepatitis exposure

Officials say parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes

Officials say parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Massapequa Park may have been exposed to the hepatitis A during holiday weekend Masses. (Jan. 6, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Hundreds more congregants at a Catholic church in Massapequa Park may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, health officials said Thursday, as they announced that possibly contaminated Communion hosts may have been served at six additional Masses.

Nassau Health Department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said investigators learned that some of the Communion wafers distributed at Our Lady of Lourdes Church potentially touched by a person later found to be infected with the virus may have been mixed in with other hosts at the end of some Masses and used in subsequent Masses.

The department said in addition to people who received Communion at the 10:30 a.m. and noon Masses on Christmas Day, parishioners who did so at the following Masses should also seek treatment: Christmas Day at 1:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 26, at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m.

Laurain said all of the potentially tainted hosts were used up by the end of the Masses on Dec. 26. Hosts are kept in bowls called ciboria, and leftovers from Masses are often combined and used in later Masses.

About 1,300 people attended the 10:30 a.m. and noon Masses on Christmas, and an additional 300 attended the 1:30 p.m. Mass, Laurain said. Fewer than 1,000 people attended the Masses the following day, and some may have been repeat attendees.

The Health Department said it will hold a vaccination clinic Friday at the church. That follows clinics held Tuesday and Wednesday.

Citing privacy laws, Health Department officials are declining to identify the person who was infected with hepatitis A. People involved in the Communion process include priests, deacons and eucharistic ministers.

Asked how the potential additional contamination was discovered, Laurain said it came out in interviews during an ongoing investigation.

Laurain said the possibility of parishioners becoming infected with hepatitis A after receiving the Communion hosts was low. Still, in consultation with state and federal health officials, the county decided to offer the additional vaccination clinic as a precaution.

Experts said it is possible, under specific conditions, for the hepatitis A virus to remain viable on a Communion host, or any hard surface, for weeks or even months.

Hepatitis A infection in marked by flulike symptoms, nausea, cramping, diarrhea, fever and in some cases, jaundice. Treatment involves injection with immune globulin, which destroys the virus.

A vaccine, which is given as two shots six months apart, can provide lifelong immunity.


Where to get Hepatitis A vaccines Friday:


Our Lady of Lourdes Church School


855 Carmans Rd., Massapequa Park

From 7 a.m. until noon


Nassau County

Department of Health

106 Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Uniondale

By appointment only from 1 until 4 p.m. To make an appointment, call 516-227-9496

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