Catholics have been told to keep their hands to themselves during Mass to stop the rampant spread of flu that has struck seven million Americans already this winter. 

Parishioners in New Mexico were told to avoid shaking hands, hugging or holding hands during the sign of peace – and nod at each other instead.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has advised Catholics displaying symptoms of the flu to watch Sunday Mass on their TV. 

Only the consecrated bread will be given during the Holy Communion – without the chalice of wine that is shared among churchgoers.  

‘It is not a sin to miss Mass on Sundays if you are ill,’ the archdiocese said in a statement. 

They also said that during the Sign of Peace, instead of shaking hands or hugging, as is practiced in some parishes, it would be best to simply nod your head and avoid bodily contact. 

Soap or anti-bacterial gel should be used before and after administering Holy Communion. 

‘When praying the Our Father, please do not hold hands,’ it said. ‘Simply extend your hands toward Heaven or fold your hands.

‘Please note the reason for these directives is to limit the spread of influenza and to save lives.

‘These directives will be revoked when the situation improves.’

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