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Experiments on the communion cup

  • Betty C. Hobbs (a1), Jill A. Knowlden (a1) and Anne White (a1)

Extract

Experiments were made to find out whether the common communion cup is likely to serve as a vehicle for the transmission of infection.

A silver chalice and sacramental wine containing 14·5% of alcohol were used. Observations with volunteers showed that the number of organisms deposited on the rim of the chalice varied from person to person, but was usually quite small—less than 100.

Rotation of the cup was of no benefit except to those partaking during the first round, since the saliva deposited on the rim by each person in turn remained to contaminate the cup during the second round, and the combined effect of the alcohol and the silver of the chalice was not rapid enough to destroy the contaminating organisms before rotation of the cup was completed.

On the other hand the use of a linen cloth or purificator led to a diminution of about 90% in the bacterial count of the cup.

Organisms in saliva deposited on the interior of the dry chalice suffered some diminution in numbers within 8 min., presumably as the result of the disinfectant action of the silver, but the effect was too small to be of significance.

When suspended in wine and deposited on the internal surface of the chalice Escherichia coli suffered a substantial reduction within 3 min., Streptococcus pyogenes was destroyed completely; but Staphylococcus aureus was affected to a much less extent.

Various experiments designed to measure the disinfectant action of wine, and of silver and wine together, showed that the augmenting effect of silver on the disinfectant action of the alcohol was quite small. Strep. pyogenes proved to be far more sensitive to alcohol than Esch. coli, Staph. aureus and Serratia marcescens. Under the conditions of the experiment these last three organisms were not destroyed for 10–12 min., whereas Strep. pyogenes perished within 1½ min.

The results of our work are in general agreement with those of previous workers, and show that the organisms deposited on the rim of the communion cup are not destroyed within the short time—5 sec. as an average—elapsing between the partaking of the sacrament by each successive communicant.

It must therefore be admitted that the common communion cup may serve as a means of transmitting infection. Reasons are given, however, for believing that the risk of transmission is very small, and probably much smaller than that of contracting infection by other methods in any gathering of people.

Such risk as there is could be greatly diminished by the use of a purificator for wiping the cup between each communicant, and could be abolished completely by substituting individual cups or by the practice of intinction.

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References

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Anders, H. S. (1897). The progress of the individual cup movement, especially among churches. J. Am. med. Ass. 29, 789.
Burrows, W. & Hemmens, E. S. (1943). Survival of bacteria on the silver communion cup. J. infect. Dis. 73, 181.
Forbes, G. (1894). Quoted by Anders (1897).
Gregory, K. F., Carpenter, J. A. & Bending, G. C. (1963). Infection hazards of the common communion cup. Bact. Proc. p. 163.
Higgins, M. (1950). A comparison of the recovery rate of organisms from cotton-wool and calcium alginate wool swabs. Mon. Bull. Minist. Hlth 9, 50.
Hamburger, M. (1944). Studies on the transmission of hemolytic streptococcus infections. II. Beta hemolytic streptococci in the saliva of persons with positive throat cultures. J. infect. Dis. 75, 71.
Liturgical Commission (1965). Alternative Services, 2nd series. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.
Miles, A. A. & Misra, S. S. (1938). The estimation of the bactericidal power of the blood. J. Hyg., Camb. 38, 732.
Page, C. G. (1925). The common cup. The Churchman, 27 June. Quoted by Burrows & Hemmens (1943).

Experiments on the communion cup

  • Betty C. Hobbs (a1), Jill A. Knowlden (a1) and Anne White (a1)

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