EMMAUS, Pa. - This year's strain of the flu is widespread in Pennsylvania. It's already responsible for 58 deaths across the state, including six in the Lehigh Valley.
Now steps to stop the spread of flu are extending to local churches.
Mass was a little different this weekend. The Catholic Diocese of Allentown wants to keep the faithful flu free. Monsignor John Mraz at the Church of St Ann in Emmaus says the local Bishop contacted the parish this week about the flu epidemic.
"There's been a notice of an increase in cases of influenza in Pennsylvania," he explained.
Health experts say the predominant strain of flu this year is H1N1, which hits younger adults and middle aged folks harder than other strains. Changes were put in place this weekend to help keep members from getting sick.
"We're asked to help prevent the spread of the disease by diminishing as much physical contact as possible," Monsignor Mraz added.
For the time being shaking hands is cut from the sign of peace, and parishioners attending church won't be sharing a wine chalice at communion.
"Normally on a Sunday we would have four ministers of communion giving out the Body of Christ, and four chalices giving out the precious blood," said Monsignor Mraz.
This isn't the first year the Diocese has made changes to mass to try and keep parishioners healthy. Members are aware of the dangers that come with such close quarters, and participating in certain customs.
"There's a lot of different people that are touching the chalice and germs spread very fast," described Rose Urland.
"I think it's very considerate of them to dispense with the contact for now," Aloma Zampell shared.
But not all Catholics are as happy to forgo the sacred traditions of the faith.
"I'm disappointed because it's just such a huge part of the Catholic ritual and part of why I love church," added Jamie Wagaman. "So it is definitely a change."
A change that is only temporary. Once the Diocese deems it safe church will go back to normal.
Allentown, PA 18102