Flu outbreak prompts changes to Communion in Boston

The rapid spread of a flu outbreak in the U.S. led to an announcement last week by the Archdiocese of Boston to suspend the distribution of wine during Communion from a common chalice.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Deeley also instructed priests on Thursday to encourage worshipers to exchange the sign of peace by bowing to nearby parishioners instead of shaking hands. The Communion hosts will continue to be given, the Boston Globe reports.

"(The Communion host) is central to the celebration' of Mass," Terrence Donilon, an Archdiocese spokesman, said, according to the Boston Globe. "(Priests will) use extra caution if people receive (the host) on the tongue and are to use extra caution in washing their hands before and after Mass."

Deeley said that the normal practices will resume after the flu season.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency last week due to the severe flu season. He said the season was the worst since 2009 with 700 confirmed cases among Boston residents, a 10-fold increase in cases compared to the same time last year.

Kevin Cranston, a representative of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, urged everyone over the age of six months to get a flu vaccine.

The last time the Archdiocese put safety measures such as this into place was during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak, the Boston Globe reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 20 influenza associated pediatric deaths as of January 5. Twenty-four states and New York City are reporting high influenza-like-illness, down from 29 states the previous week. Since October 1, influenza-related hospitalizations are at a rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people in the U.S.