Madrid: H1N1 influenza is prompting tough health measures around the globe, but could it go as far as forcing a "kissing strike" in traditionally affectionate Spain?The health authorities are recommending that Spaniards no longer greet each other with the usual kiss on both cheeks. But many people say kissing is so important they are willing to risk catching the disease, popularly known as swine flu. "What would people think if I refused to return their kisses?" exclaims Maria, 40. "I am so used to it, I could not stop doing it." Even Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez herself has been seen greeting officials with kisses, despite the warnings issued by her ministry. As in some other Mediterranean countries, Spanish women and even male relatives or friends greet each other with kisses or at least with gestures of kissing on the cheeks. Spanish people generally like touching each other, for instance placing their hand around the shoulder or their hand on the hand of the person they are talking to. However, kisses and hugs are among the most effective ways of spreading H1N1, experts warn in the country where swine flu has killed around 20 people, one of the highest rates in Europe. The health ministry is planning to vaccinate people with chronic diseases, health and some other professionals, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups. There will be sufficient vaccines for up to 60 percent of the population. Above all, however, the authorities intend to focus on information campaigns advising people to avoid habits that could spread the virus. "Do not kiss, do not shake hands, just say hi," the Madrid city council recommended in a placard it placed on a wall of the city hall. "Getting used to limiting close contact diminishes the risk of transmission (of the virus)," Juan Jose Rodriguez Sendin, president of a doctors` organisation, told the daily El Pais. The Catholic Church has heeded the warning, recommending to believers that they refrain from kissing statues of the Virgin Mary during religious celebrations. During religious services where Catholics eat a small wafer of bread, some priests have also begun placing the wafer in the hand of the communicant. Traditionally, priests placed it directly in the mouth of the person.
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