Fear of the flu has some churches rethinking their traditional hugs and handshakes as well as their communal Communion cup.
Love your brother, they advise, just don't touch him.
Locally, the Diocese of Stockton sent out a memo to priests on Jan. 11, urging them to take precautions against the "particularly bad" flu outbreak this year.
Catholic and Episcopal dioceses in other parts of the country also have sent guidelines to clergy designed to slow the spread of sickness through their congregations.
"This is just a matter of reminding people to use their common sense," said Patricia Hughes, director of the office of worship for the 1.5 million-member Dallas Catholic Diocese.
During a ritual called the "Sign of Peace" in which parishioners clasp hands and occasionally exchange kisses on the cheek church leaders suggest less physical contact would be better.
"Perhaps people should be a little more discreet until the flu epidemic is over," said Hughes. "A smile, head bow and eye contact will generally work for wishing someone peace."
Bishop James M. Stanton, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, took the precautions a step further. He suggested parishioners not be allowed to drink wine from a common chalice during communion or dip their wafers in wine.
Locally, Bishop Chester Talton of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin has not addressed the issue, but Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Stockton Diocese made the following recommendations: that the faithful be encouraged to bow rather than shake hands during the Sign of Peace, that Communion should be limited to bread alone, that all Communion ministers should use antibacterial gel "immediately before the distribution of Holy Communion," and that anyone who is feeling unwell, including the priest, "should refrain from distributing Holy Communion."
"We're not distributing the cup for the people," said the Rev. Mark Wagner, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto. "I took this as an opportunity to explain to people that we believe every crumb of the host contains the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus."
In fact, he said, before the revamped worship practices of Vatican II were established in the 1960s, only priests partook of the cup.
That practice is still the norm in Mexico and other parts of the world, said the Rev. Ramon Bejarano, pastor of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Modesto.
"We are still offering the cup, but since November, we have been announcing to people that if they are not feeling well, they should abstain from drinking the precious blood," he said.
He added that he hasn't seen any large outbreaks of the flu in his parish.
"Three years ago, we had more concerns, but last year and this year, it has seemed normal," he said.
Other denominations follow other practices.
"We have a common cup, but we dip our bread in it," said the Rev. Debra Brady of First United Methodist Church in Modesto. "Churches are a great place for sharing, but we then often share colds and flu also! We have hand sanitizer all over the place."
Sanitizing gel also is available at Modesto Covenant Church.
"For the last few years, we have put out hand sanitizer on the tables in our foyer in the winter months," said the Rev. Mark Krieger, MCC's senior pastor. "However, we have still decided to continue our greeting time (handshakes or hugs) during our worship services."
In nonchurch settings, handshakes continue to be the norm. Most business lunches still begin and end with handshakes, as do job interviews and even trips to the doctor.
Dr. Isaac Pugach, a primary-care physician who runs a clinic in the Lake Highlands area of Dallas, said he never leaves anybody hanging.
"If a patient offers their hand, I always take it," he said. "You never want to offend anyone, but from a medical point of view, this is a decision each individual needs to make."
He suggested that a namaste an Indian tradition of pressing palms together in front of the chest followed by a gentle bow might be a polite gesture until the influenza outbreak subsides.
Shaking hands is a tradition that began as early as the fifth century B.C. to demonstrate that an extended hand did not carry a weapon. Today, it has evolved into a pleasantry and a quick assessment of someone's confidence.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki and McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers contributed to this report.