By John Shumway

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GREENSBURG (KDKA) — At Our Lady of Grace in Greensburg, when you take Communion these days, the priest will give you the Host, but no Communion wine. The reason, the rampant flu.

Greensburg Catholic Diocese spokesman Jerry Zufelt says their thinking is simple.

“I take a sip of Communion from the cup, then the person behind takes a sip if they so choose. So you’re sharing the cup, and right now, that’s what we have to be concerned about,” he said.

Zufelt says the leaders of the church are asking parishioners, “Please if you are sick, don’t receive Communion from the cup.”

And it’s not just the common cup creating a point of concern.

Like most churches, when someone arrives for services, they are met by a greeter. Then, during the sharing of peace during the service, they are expected to turn and greet those around them. In both cases, handshakes are common.

Zufelt says, “Use commonsense if you are sick with flu, or other diseases besides flu. Please don’t shake hands with the person next to you.”

Allegheny General Hospital’s Dr. Marc Itskowitz agrees.

“I think handshaking is something we should reconsider this time of year, at least until we get past the peak of the flu season. If you do handshake, make sure that you wash your hands afterwards,” Dr. Itskowitz said.

Dr. Itskowitz says it’s not just shaking hands in church that we need to be concerned about.

“I would assume that everything you are touching has the potential to be contaminated. It’s possible that the flu virus can survive up to 48 hours on objects like metal wood or plastics,” he said.

KDKA’s John Shumway Reports:

Cell phones can especially be a cauldron of swirling virus because we hold the phones to our faces and certainly don’t stop using them just because we’re sick. This is a significant threat to young people who readily share and handle each other’s phones.

“By simply touching objects that are contaminated, you can become infected,” says Dr. Itskowitz.

Door knobs, vending machines, and grocery carts are points of common usage and could potentially have the virus lying in wait. Dr. Itskowitz says those wipes are available at the grocery store door for a reason.

“I think it’s reasonable to use them. If you don’t use them, when you get back to your car maybe use an alcohol-based gel,” he said.

Children’s toys can also hold onto the virus for a couple of days if touched by an infected child or adult. So, Dr. Itskowitz says cleaning toys is a must.

“Baby wipes are good; in fact, the simple act of wiping will remove the virus,” he says.

If you want to make sure your phone is virus free, use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. The experts say never use a product with ammonia because it can damage your phone, and never pour any cleaner on your phone – use a paper towel or a cloth to wipe down your phone.

All these precautions will no longer be necessary once the flu runs its course, but that could be several more weeks. In the meantime, the Greensburg Diocese is sending out guidelines to protect parishioners, which will be in effect until the flu threat passes.

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