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Fargo bishop apologizes to those he may have exposed to hepatitis A

Bishop John Folda

FARGO — Bishop John Folda of the Fargo Catholic Diocese would rather have lost a limb than unwittingly exposed five congregations to the hepatitis A virus.

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During a news conference Friday afternoon, Folda expressed his regret over possibly exposing churches in Fargo, Jamestown and Grand Forks to the virus at a time when he exhibited no symptoms of the disease.

“I sincerely apologize to the many people who may have been exposed to the virus,” he said. “I wish I had known I was ill so I could immediately refrain from participating in public activities.”

The North Dakota Department of Health issued an advisory of exposure Thursday for anyone who attended church and took communion at Holy Spirit Church, Fargo, Sept. 27; Cathedral of St. Mary, Fargo, Oct. 6; St. Paul’s Catholic Newman Center, Fargo, Oct. 7; and St. James Basilica, Jamestown, Sept 29-Oct. 2.

On Friday, the Health Department added those in attendance at a 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Grand Forks to the list.

“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,” said Molly Howell, immunization program manager.

Folda believes he contracted hepatitis A from food in September while in Italy for a conference of new bishops.

The virus is easily spread if people do not wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom or changing a diaper or soiled sheets, then touch their mouths, prepare food or touch others with contaminated hands.

Folda didn’t know at the time that outbreaks of hepatitis A have been rampant in Italy over the past 10 months.

Folda first started to feel cold and flu-like symptoms around Oct. 9. The following day he canceled future appointments and eventually sought medical advice. He was officially diagnosed Oct. 16.

He experienced no symptoms during the time he was most contagious.

The Health Department said the virus is contagious during the two weeks prior to symptoms appearing and one week after the symptoms begin.

Symptoms include fever, tiredness, and loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, pale stools and jaundice, according to a Health Department news release.

Although rarely deadly, the virus can cause serious illness, Howell said.

Folda said he will soon be up to a full work schedule. He has not heard of other U.S. bishops who attended the conference being diagnosed with hepatitis A.

His office has not heard of any church members being diagnosed with the virus.

Aliceyn Magelky, director of communication for the Fargo Diocese, said the Health Department will be notifying the church office of new cases.

Folda is the sixth case of hepatitis A to be reported to the Health Department this year.