BISMARCK, N.D. — The bishop of the Fargo Catholic Diocese exposed some parishioners at North Dakota churches in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown to the hepatitis A virus in late September and early October.
The state Health Department on Thursday issued an advisory of exposure for anyone who attended any of the five affected churches and took communion from Bishop John Folda, 52. State immunization program manager Molly Howell said the risk is low but officials “felt it was important for people to know about the possible exposure.”
State health officials say they are not sure exactly how many churchgoers might have been exposed. A church official from one affected church said about 25 people there received communion from Folda.
Diocese spokeswoman Aliceyn Magelky said Folda contracted the liver disease from contaminated food while attending a conference last month in Italy for newly ordained bishops. Folda has taken time off since Oct. 10 due to the virus, she said.
“He’s doing great,” Magelky said of Folda. “He’s moving back into his regular schedule.”
Folda issued a statement Friday apologizing to parishioners.
“I sincerely apologize to the people who may have been exposed to the virus,” his statement said. “I wish I had known I was ill so I could immediately refrain from participating in public activities. Unfortunately, I had no symptoms immediately following my return and during the events that have been brought to the public’s attention.”
Hepatitis A is rarely deadly but can cause serious liver problems.
Folda said his doctor has told him that he is no longer contagious and hasn’t been for some time.
Magelky on Friday said Folda would soon be able to perform communion “whatever time he is invited to or asked.”
Clay Whittlesey, who serves communion at a Catholic church in Fargo, said people take great care with hygiene when preparing the bread or wafers and wine.
“I have talked to a lot of people about this, and nobody is too worried about contracting hepatitis A,” he said.–