Risk of Infection

 

Can you catch a cold or flu from someone else during communion?

 
The Diocese of Toronto has studied the issue and prepared a well-thought out document on the potential problem that you can read here.  Recent outbreaks such as SARS, influenza and the threat of "bird flu" have raised concerns about hygiene and practices that could elevate the risk of transmitting communicable diseases.  There are several opportunities to share more than you intended on a Sunday morning, such as greeting friends, sharing the peace and participating in the Eucharist.  But is this Christian communion really a hazard to your health?
 
The document by the Diocese of Toronto reminds us to keep things in perspective; there are many ordinary acts that we engage in throughout the rest of the week that are of similar risk to health.  While sharing a common cup in communion is a possible route for the transmission of pathogens, the risk is minimal and well within the norms of daily behaviour.
 
Should I use intinction if I have a cold?  Intinction is the practice of dipping the wafer in the wine rather than drinking from the cup.  It was once thought to be safer because disease would not pass from one person's lips to another's via the cup.  However, the Diocese of Toronto has since 2009 prohibited the practice because it actually increases the risk of transmitting disease as the hands used to dip the wafer are just as likely to be a source of infection as the lips, perhaps even more so.  
 
If you have a cold or flu, it's probably best to stay away from others to reduce the risk of spreading your virus.  Some simple hygiene practices can help too, including the use of anti-microbial hand rinse and thorough hand washing.  
 
As the Diocese of Toronto puts it, it must be stressed that the present use of the common cup and the exchange of peace does not pose a significant health hazard; common sense and basic hygiene is our best defence.