Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Health Precautions as we enter the Influenza Season -- Canon John W. Kilgore, MD.

With the arrival of fall we approach we enter the influenza season, earlier this year than ever. There is significant concern and anxiety about the H1N1 influenza (Swine flu) this year as well as concern that the influenza season is occurring earlier and may be more intense than previous years since influenza activity has persisted though the summer in an unusual pattern.

Influenza is spread by droplet secretion. Coughing, sneezing, and transferring microscopic droplet from nose to hand, and then from hand to nose of another are the primary ways one becomes infected. Individuals with influenza can transmit the virus from one day before symptoms appear until 7 days after symptoms appear. Obviously in a church community such as ours some will become ill and spread may occur. While concern exists about use of the common cup, casual interaction and handshaking likely pose more risk than the common cup. The risk of contracting influenza from the common cup is extremely low, though not nonexistent. Saliva is not a significant form of influenza transfer. Sitting next to someone coughing and sneezing or shaking hands with such an individual without washing hands or using an alcohol gel before touching your own face and nose are much higher risk than drinking from a common cup.

That said we will be undertaking some precautions this influenza season to minimize the risk. At Christ Church Cathedral, all involved in distributing communion will use alcohol gel prior to distribution. We will continue to use the common cup. We are asking all clergy and chalice ministers to absent themselves from distributing communion if they have any concern that they are ill or may be infected with influenza. For those with concerns about the common cup, and for those who may be concerned that they might be ill we suggest that you instinct the wafer. Intinction is the dipping of the wafer into the chalice of wine, then placing it into the mouth, rather than drinking from the common cup. Intinction will be done only by clergy or chalice ministers and from a chalice reserved for intinction. A theological point is relevant here – Holy Communion is equally valid when ‘administered in only one kind.’ That is, receiving only the bread constitutes full communion. The common cup will still be available. If you do wish to instinct, please hold the wafer in your hand until the chalice minister or clergy comes with the cup and that person will dip the wafer for you, then hand it back to you to consume.

In our communal times together there are several things you can do to help ensure the health of all here at Christ Church Cathedral.

• If you are ill or feeling you might be getting ill or know you have been exposed to influenza, stay home until well and without fever for 24 hours
• Cover all coughs and sneezes with a handkerchief
• When you are present for communion, have a low threshold for intincting if you have concerns about your own health or possibility of being infectious
• Follow good ‘cough etiquette’ – cough only into a tissue or into the angle of your elbow, not into a bare hand
• Maintain good hygiene by washing hands or using an alcohol gel after coughing, sneezing, using the restroom, and after greeting large numbers of people
• Consider a more reserved passing of the peace, greeting only those around you rather than the entire congregation
• Get influenza vaccines early – both seasonal and the new H1N1 (swine flue) when available

One additional consideration: children under the age of 10 and pregnant women have been particularly susceptible to this strain of influenza and have become sicker with it. Consider extra precautions for these individuals, including not partaking from the common cup, and practicing extra good hygiene.

The above said, caution is warranted but not panic. Influenza has been around for years and the human body is amazingly resilient. Furthermore, if the common cup were a real threat priests would have had short lifespans and died out quickly hundreds of years ago! Most individuals who contract influenza have relatively mild illness. That said, observe precautions, and be well.

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