North Dakota Bishop John Folda exposed his parishioners to hepatitis A in late September and early October when he administered communion after unknowingly contracting the virus just a few days before.
According to the Associated Press, Fonda contracted hepatitis A from contaminated food he ate at a conference for newly ordained bishops last month in Italy. He didn’t have any symptoms when he initially returned, so he administered and participated in communion from Sep. 29 to Oct. 7 in three different towns in North Dakota. The state health department issued an advisory for churchgoers who may have been exposed, noting that about 25 people received communion from him during those dates.
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," his statement said. "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."
Hepatitis A is a viral infection affecting the liver that is highly contagious, according to the Mayo Clinic. Like Faldo, most people contract the virus by coming in contact with contaminated food or water, or from close contact with someone else who has it. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. The virus is rarely deadly and usually goes away within weeks after the onset of symptoms. In rare cases, patients may experience symptoms that last several weeks or the hepatitis A virus can cause acute liver failure.
Vaccination can prevent the illness within two weeks of exposure, but Faldo’s parishioners found out too late to receive one.
"I have talked to a lot of people about this, and nobody is too worried about contracting hepatitis A," said Clay Whittlesey, who also serves communion at a Catholic church in North Dakota. "Mostly we're praying for a healthy and speedy recovery for the bishop."
For more information on hepatitis A and how you can protect yourself from the virus, visit MayoClinic.com.