December 6, 2005
Information provided by: Disaster Response Team Coordinators
Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ
In response to inquiries about the potential pandemic of bird flu, the following information is being provided on how to protect oneself from illness.
Dire predictions about a possible bird flu pandemic have been abundant. The most important thing is to avoid panic. Human to human transmission of this flu is a possibility, but no more than that right now. If it happens, it will be a major threat and prudent plans need to be made, but it is not productive for our pastors and churches to be engaged in frenzied activity that will stir up feelings of panic.
That being said, there are a number of things that should certainly be done. If the bird flu threat becomes a reality, it will spread in the same ways that the flu spreads among us every year. It would be wise to take precautions now that would reduce the spread of any influenza virus.
Based on suggestions made by the Center for Disease Control, these precautions include:
1. Get a flu shot. There is no vaccination available at this time for bird flu, but pastors should certainly get the regular flu shot. Naturally if there are medical reasons for avoiding the shot, such as an allergy to eggs, this should not be done.
2. Get in the practice of keeping germs out of your body. Many germs enter by way of the hand when we touch the eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands often, especially before eating. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
3. Hand washing is considered key to limiting the spread of flu. Alcohol based hand sanitizers offer a good alternative when a sink and soap are not available. In the event of an active flu threat, we might make these sanitizers available to people as they come to church and even as they leave. We do a lot of hand shaking and that's a great way to share germs. Keep in mind that this gel is very flammable until dried.
4. Stay home when you are sick. Don’t share your germs unnecessarily. Similarly, avoid being with sick people if possible.
5. Churches should always be concerned about hygienic practices. This includes food handling, cleaning and sanitizing bathrooms, kitchens and children's areas. If your church uses a common cup for communion, you should think long and hard about that.
6. Consider those in your congregation and community who may be vulnerable in the event of a flu outbreak. How might the church reach out to them?
7. It might be prudent for churches and clergy groups to discuss the effect a flu pandemic could have on them. Would Sunday services be canceled? Would preschools that use churches be suspended? Would clergy find themselves stressed to the max? (We know the answer to that one!) But again, let's not create panic.
8. Urge people (especially Pastors) to take care of themselves. Building up your immune system is the best defense. This includes proper diet, rest and exercise. And above all, try to stay calm!