The North Dakota Department of Health has issued a warning that people who attended any of four Catholic churches and received communion on specific dates may have been exposed to the Hepatitis A virus.
The four churches listed in the Health Department warning are:
- Holy Spirit Church, Fargo, school mass on September 27.
- Cathedral of St. Mary, Fargo, noon mass on October 6.
- St. Paul’s Catholic Newman Center, Fargo, mass on October 7.
- St. James Basilica, Jamestown, priest convention from September 29 to October 2.
The source of the infection is none other than Bishop John T. Folda, new bishop of the Fargo diocese. Bishop Folda was named bishop of the diocese by Pope Francis on April 9 and installed and ordained on June 19, 2013. He then traveled to Rome this summer to attend “bishops’ school,” an orientation program for new bishops. While there, he apparently ate contaminated food, contracting the Hepatitis A infection. Upon his return to the diocese, the bishop celebrated Mass and distributed communion at the four locations.
The Grand Forks Herald reports that Bishop Folda has been out of the office since October 10 due to illness, but he is on the mend. Aliceyn Magelky, director of communication for the Fargo Diocese, said, “He has improved greatly. He is doing just fine; he is slowly getting back to his regular schedule.”Magelky reported that the diocese had issued pulpit announcements to each of the four churches listed in the health department’s news release.
Although the risk of infection is considered extremely low, health department officials felt that the public should be informed of the possible exposure. Symptoms of Hepatitis A include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, pale stools or jaundice. Symptoms can take 15 to 50 days to appear. Since it’s a virus, there is no treatment which will cure it; sufferers are given palliative care to relieve their symptoms until the virus runs its course.
A vaccine for Hepatitis A is now available and is often recommended for persons traveling outside of the United States. However, the vaccine is given as two doses over a six-month time period; so Bishop Folda may not have had sufficient time to complete the full course of immunization before his European travel.
UPDATE: A second U.S. bishop, also a participant at the Bishops’ School, has now taken ill with Hepatitis A. Read that story here.