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1,300 People Potentially Exposed to Hepatitis during NY Church Christmas Communion

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January 4, 2011

People who attended Christmas day mass at a Long Island church may have been exposed to Hepatitis A during Holy Communion.

The Nassau County Department of Health is warning parishioners and anyone who received Holy Communion at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park during the 10:30 am and 12:00 pm masses on Christmas day, December 25 that they may have been exposed to Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A (HAV) is a contagious virus that affects the liver, causing illness that can last weeks to months. Most people who contract the disease recover without lasting liver damage. However, in rare circumstances Hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death, especially in persons 50 years of age or older and those with other liver diseases, including Hepatitis B or C. While some people infected with the disease will experience no symptoms, those that do may experience these symptoms two to six weeks after exposure:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)

“Hepatitis A virus may be spread by consuming food or drink that has been handled by an infected person. It may also be spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A,” said a Health Department news release. “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.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 25,000 cases Hepatitis A every year in the U.S.

“There are no special treatments for Hepatitis A. Most people with Hepatitis A will feel sick for a few months before they begin to feel better, the CDC website says. “A few people will need to be hospitalized. During this time, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition and fluids. People with Hepatitis A should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements or over-the-counter medications, which can potentially damage the liver. Alcohol should be avoided.”

People exposed to Hepatitis A may benefit from the Hepatitis A vaccine if the vaccine is given within two weeks of exposure.

“The first thing we want to tell everybody is do not panic. We are still within the period that vaccination or immune globulin, depending on what you qualify for, will prevent disease to a very, very high rate” said Lawrence Eisenstein, Commissioner of the Nassau Co. Department of Health told CBS news.

Nassau County Department of Health will offer immune globulin or hepatitis A vaccine to those potentially exposed to hepatitis A at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Christmas. The vaccine will be available:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 – 3 pm to 8 pm
Wednesday, January 5, 2011 – 9 am to 3 pm
Our Lady of Lourdes Church School Auditorium
855 Carmans Road
Massapequa Park, New York

People who have had Hepatitis A in the past or have received a vaccination for the disease are immune to the disease.