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Sep 14, 2013 04:17 AM EDT

Holy water in Austria Unsafe for Drinking; Contains Fecal and Bacterial Contamination, Study

Almost all the holy water in Austria is impure and may affect a person's health due to bacterial contamination, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna.

The microbiologists found 86 percent of water samples from holy sources contained fecal matter. On an average, up to 62 million bacteria were present in every milliliter of holy water.

"Holy water in churches and chapels may cause infections via wetting of lips and sprinkling on persons," said Dr Alexander Kirschner, a microbiologist from the Medical University of Vienna.

The Austrian researchers arrived at the conclusion after examining water in 21 holy springs in Austria and in 18 fonts in Vienna throughout the year. The church fonts revealed elevated levels of bacteria and none of the holy springs were considered safe for drinking.

Apart from fecal contamination with deadly E coli bacteria and enterococci, the holy springs also contained, Campylobacter, which can cause inflammatory diarrhea. The water also contains nitrates from pesticides or agricultural waste.

They also found that the presence of bacteria increased in the fonts as the church got crowded..

 "We need to warn people against drinking from these sources,' said Kirschner. He suggests authorities to place caution signs by the holy springs."

"In those days, the quality of the water in towns and cities was generally so poor that people were constantly developing diarrhea or other diseases as a result. If they then came across a protected spring in the forest that was not as polluted and drank from it for several days, their symptoms would disappear," Kirschner said.

In medieval times, the springs earned reputation for having healing properties.

 'So although in those days they were drinking healthier water, given the excellent quality of our drinking water today, the situation is now completely reversed.'

If the tradition has to continue, Kirschner recommends salt to be added to holy water in fonts to decrease bacterial multiplication, plus, the holy water in churches should be changed frequently.

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