Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 10:46 UK

Holy water ban to halt swine flu

Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin
The Bishop of Chelmsford sent the advice to priests in Essex

A bishop has advised that holy water be removed from churches in a bid to halt the spread of swine flu.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin, said at some churches people were invited make a sign of the cross using holy water.

"The water in stoups can easily become a source of infection and a means of rapidly spreading the virus," he said.

In a directive to priests in Essex, he added: "It is not our intention at this stage to cause panic."

He said priests should also advise members of their congregation who have flu-like symptoms to stay at home.

Face masks

The Bishop also issued advice about taking holy communion warning if anyone had flu-like symptoms not to "drink wine from the chalice".

He assured congregations that they could receive full holy communion by just taking the wafer of bread.

He discouraged pastoral visits and said if a visit was necessary priests should wear sterile gloves, an apron and a face mask.

Chaplain Chris Newlands added: "People need to be reassured that the church is doing everything it can to stop the spread of infection."

The advice comes as swine flu-related deaths in the UK rose to 17.

On Tuesday, a post-mortem examination ruled that a GP who died after contracting it was not killed by the virus.

Nearly 200,000 concerned people have contacted NHS Direct since April.

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