Disaster Team gives tips for churches dealing with the 2013 influenza outbreak.


Don Remick

1/10/2013

Disaster Resource Team Coordinators
Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ
Statement Regarding Influenza

Influenza, or the “flu”, circulates through our population every year. The outbreak is worse some years than others, but this year appears to be heading toward a serious outbreak. In the first few weeks of 2013 the trends have been going upward, with no sign of leveling off. For most people a case of influenza makes for several days of discomfort and sickness. For some people it can be quite dangerous.

Actions that will slow the spread of the flu and lessen its impact should be taken now. However, it is not productive for our pastors and churches to be engaged in frenzied activity that will stir up feelings of panic. Based on suggestions made by the Center for Disease Control, precautions that could be taken include:

1. Get into the practice of keeping germs out of your body. Many germs enter by way of the hands when we touch the eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands often, especially before eating. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

2. 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.

3. Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so. A supply of food, over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.

4. Get immunized. There are reports of people getting sick even after being immunized, but it is still the best defense against the flu. Those who get sick despite having the shot seem to have milder cases. Pastors have responsibilities to care for others and should be immunized.

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. Alternate means of passing the peace might be available for those who want to limit exposure to germs.

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. Who will fill in for key people if they become ill? If large gatherings of people such as church services are limited, how can you stay in touch with your church members? Do you have an email list? It may be helpful to check with town officials (fire, police and town hall) to see if the church buildings might be utilized as part of a disaster response.

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!

9. Stay home when you are sick. Don’t share your germs unnecessarily. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Similarly, avoid being with sick people if possible. If you become sick, practice good "cough etiquette" by coughing or sneezing into a tissue, throwing that tissue away or cough into your elbow instead of into your hands.

10. If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Bluish or gray skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• Not waking up or not interacting
• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and increased cough

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Sudden dizziness
• Confusion
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and increased cough

If people at risk of medical complications from flu develop flu-like symptoms, they should seek treatment from a healthcare provider within 48 hours, which may include antiviral treatment.

11. Keep informed.

Up to date information can be found on the Center for Disease Control website: www.flu.gov.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health provides information on the flu: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/

The Revs. Donald Remick and James Tilbe, MACUCC Disaster Response Coordinators

 



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