Across the world millions of the faithful visit the baptism areas of churches every Sunday. The church offers a peaceful start to the week, but according to a new Austrian study dipping the fingers in “cleansing” water of the baptism can be anything but peaceful or cleansing. In fact, the new study found 86% of holy water is infected with bacteria, which can cause cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fever.
The researchers found dangerous levels of bacteria in the holy water usually used in baptism ceremonies and to wet the lips of congregant’s lips. Campylobacter, enterococci, E. coli all found by the researcher can cause adults to have flu like symptoms, but are life threatening to the very young and those over 65 years of age.
The research conducted by the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna tested 21 holy springs in Austria, and over 15 fonts in Vienna and found levels of bacteria so high it was unsafe to drink. Along with the bacteria the study which was published in the Journal of Water and Health also found nitrates. Nitrates are typically found in fertilizer from farms and if water containing nitrates over the maximum contaminant level is ingested it can cause serious illness. Infants younger than 6 months are especially at risk, since if untreated after ingesting water containing a high level of nitrates, the resulting illness can prove fatal for this group.
The study recommends that hospitals and health agencies have a better awareness of illness spread through church’s holy water, that priests regularly change the holy water in churches, and churches warn congregants about the dangers of ingesting it.
Some churches add salt to water to prevent contamination, but the researchers found this is not effective enough in preventing the spread of bacteria. Bacteria and nitrates can enter the water through a variety of means including runoff from farms, and from contamination as worshippers come in contact with the water.