Bishop Urges Against Shaking Hands to Stop Flu

You can pray you won't get the flu, but Vermont's Catholic bishop is urging other steps as well.

Bishop Kenneth Angell (search) has urged worshippers of the state's largest religion to abstain from the Mass customs of sharing a chalice of wine and shaking hands for the next six months.

Angell made the request, believed to be the only one like it in the country, in a notice to the state's 130 Catholic parishes.

The nation is facing a shortage of flu vaccine (search) because about half of this year's supply was found to be contaminated with bacteria.

Vermont needs at least 50,000 doses for people at highest risk of facing hospitalization or death from the flu, but it only has about 36,000 doses.

State Health Commissioner Paul Jarris is recommending the state's limited supply be given to chronically ill children and nursing home residents. He suggests everyone else take such precautions as avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing hands often and keeping fingers away from the eyes, nose and mouth.

Catholics traditionally shake hands with parishioners in pews beside them when a priest calls for a "sign of peace" during Mass. They then receive a piece of communion bread and may sip from a shared chalice.

Among other denominations in Vermont, the 19,000-member United Methodist Church (search) and the 18,000-member United Church of Christ (search) will continue shaking hands and receiving communion from single-serving cups, while the 8,700-member Episcopal Church (search) will let parishioners make their own decision.