Medical Q&As

Communion chalice - spread of infection?

What illnesses can be transmitted by sharing the communion cup at communion services?

The health risks of drinking from a shared communion chalice are negligible. The number of bacteria on a personís lips is small and it has been estimated that the number of organisms that are deposited on the rim of the shared chalice is less than one hundred. Even if a person did acquire some bacteria from the chalice it is likely that most of the bacteria would be harmless commensals rather than pathogens or disease causing bacteria. Infectious agents also need to be present in large amounts in order to infect a person. For example, if a person had a heavily infected cold sore on the lip it is likely that the person would be shedding large amounts of virus through the cold sore, which would raise the possibility that such infection could be transmitted to the lips of the next person using the chalice. However, in that scenario most reasonable people with cold sores would decline to use the shared chalice much as they would avoid exposing others to risk by kissing. If we take the example of a more serious infection such as TB it would be necessary for the bacteria to be present in large quantities on the infected personís lips. It is also important to emphasise that it is not common to acquire that infection by swallowing. TB is usually inhaled and in order to acquire it by ingestion large amounts of the TB bacillus would have to be ingested over a long period of time. It is also worth noting that organisms that infect through the mouth are usually not present on the lips. In summary the communion chalice would not be regarded as a significant vector in the transmission of infection.