FARGO, N.D. — The bishop of the Fargo Catholic Diocese might have exposed hundreds of churchgoers in two North Dakota cities to the hepatitis A virus in late September and early October.
The state Health Department has issued an advisory of exposure for anyone who was served communion at services attended by Bishop John Folda at four churches in Fargo and Jamestown during that time. The hepatitis A virus is rarely deadly but can cause serious liver problems. It is usually transmitted through exposure to an infected person or through contaminated food or drinks.
“The risk of people getting hepatitis A in this situation is low, but the Department of Health felt it was important for people to know about the possible exposure,” State Immunization Program Manager Molly Howell said in a statement Thursday.
It is not known how many churchgoers might have been exposed.
Folda contracted the liver disease from contaminated food while attending a conference for newly ordained bishops in Italy last month, the diocese said Monday. He has been traveling extensively since he was ordained in June but has been taking time off work since Oct. 10 due to the virus, diocese spokeswoman Aliceyn Magelky told The Forum.
“He has improved greatly,” Magelky said. “He is doing just fine; he is slowly getting back to his regular schedule.”
Folda attended and participated in communion distribution at the Sept. 27 school mass at Holy Spirit Church in Fargo; the Sept. 29-Oct. 2 priest convention at St. James Basilica in Jamestown; the Oct. 6 noon mass at Cathedral of St. Mary in Fargo; and the Oct. 7 mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Newman Center in Fargo.
One parishioner who was exposed said she isn’t too concerned.
“We pray for (Folda), and I’m not too worried about getting hepatitis,” Terry Pennebaker, of Fargo, told WDAY-TV.
Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, pale stools or jaundice. Symptoms can take 15 to 50 days to appear. People who develop symptoms are urged to consult a doctor. Health officials do not recommend that people get tested if they do not have symptoms.