Swine Flu Cuts the Kiss in Europe

Each year devout Roman Catholics in Naples, Italy, honor the time-honored ritual of kissing a vial of blood from the city's patron Saint Gennaro.

St. Gennaro's dried blood is said to liquefy twice a year, a full 17 centuries after his martyr death.

However, in light of the swine flu, Roman Catholic and city authorities forbid the kissing. On Sept. 19, the faithful will only be allowed to touch the vial with their foreheads, according to reporting from Reuters.

While Italians have stopped kissing one of Naples' most sacred relics, the United States Conference of Bishops said churches on this side of the Atlantic haven't made any drastic changes in light if the H1N1 virus.

Swine Flu and the Catholic Mass

"In terms of Mass, we're not making any national change at the moment. But some local bishops may choose to make some specific policies," said the Rev. Rick Hilgartner, associate director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the United States Conference of Bishops.

Hilgartner said parishioners and priests should always follow proper hygiene -- refraining from the communion chalice if you feel ill, or washing your hands before ministering communion -- regardless of the swine flu threat.

But last spring Hilgartner said some Bishops took extra measures when news of Swine Flu hit, and they may do so again this fall.

"Many local bishops said that that the sign of peace would be suspended in least in terms of shaking hands," said Hilgartner. "Some bishops recommended receiving communion only in the hand," he said, adding that asking a parishioner to not open their mouth for communion is a serious request in the Roman Catholic Church.

"But I think that would be only put in place if there was a perceived need for extreme caution," said Hilgartner.

For all the sacrificed social rituals, or religious rites, some infectious experts say a little common sense may go much further in preventing swine flu this fall.

Which Restrictions Matter When Stopping Swine Flu

"I think social restrictions very hard to enforce. We can't really live in a bubble and we're social beings," said Dr. Dalilah Restrepo, an infectious disease expert at St. Luke's - Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

"The common sense advice of washing your hands and using your sanitizer is definitely going to be the gold standard," said Restrepo. "And I can tell you from other viral infections the best thing is the vaccine."

But, Restrepo pointed out, the world will have to wait to see how well the H1N1 vaccines will prevent the spread of the swine flu this year.

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