If your church stops shaking hands or sharing wine during communion, they're not being anti-social -- they may be trying to stop the spread of flu.

The Diocese of Buffalo in New York has issued several directives to churches and Catholic schools, including the suspension of both sharing wine during communion, and shaking hands as a gesture of peace during the service.

Bishop Richard J. Malone issued the guidelines to all 164 parishes and 53 schools in the Diocese after the New York State Department of Health announced the number of influenza cases in the state spiked 54 percent last week, compared to the previous week.  Some 7,779 new flu cases were reported, while about 1,759 people statewide were hospitalized with the flu last week, state health officials said.

Besides suspending the distribution of wine during communion, Bishop Malone advised, "Ministers should also wash their hands before Mass in preparation for the distribution of consecrated hosts."

Other directives included parishioners should bow to each other rather than shake hands as a sign of peace during services, and that those who are ill should not feel "bound by the Sunday Mass obligation"

Since early October, the influenza outbreak has been widespread in all states, except Hawaii, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  At least 37 children across the nation have died from the flu this season, the CDC says.

Fortunately, the CDC said Friday that hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly so far haven't been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people aged 50 to 64 -- baby boomers, mostly -- has been unusually high, CDC officials said.


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