Churches Step Up Precautions Against Swine Flu

| September 24, 2009

When swine flu concerns peaked in late April and early May, sales of a combination of sealed juice and individually wrapped communion wafers soared. eChurch Depot, the Camp Hill, Pa., based online distributor of church supplies reported a brisk business.

June through August sales of the juice and wrapped wafer were between three and four times of what they were a year ago, eChurch Depot CFO and co-owner Doug Waardenburg said.

“There really has been nothing else that we have as a food item that people would pass and share that we’ve seen a similar increase for,” Waardenburg said.

While some reports predict a more moderate flu season than earlier warnings of a deadly pandemic, when it comes to preventing influenza A H1N1 (swine flu), Loistine Herndon, executive director of Temple Missionary Baptist Church Community Outreach isn’t taking chances. She says the key to preventing panic and fear is education and being prepared.

“It is not about frightening people, it is about giving cogent advice to prevent the spread of infection. It is important to realize that any close contact, whether its during worship service or during the Friday community food giveaway, can create the risk of spreading infection.”

In a time when Americans are engaged in fierce debate over the federal government’s role in their healthcare, many citizens are less inclined to accept government warnings of a ‘supercharged’ flu season.

For racial and ethnic minorities, who are also believed to be at greater-than-average risk from H1N1 flu, concerns about vaccine spring from deeper roots.

In the African American community, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, uncovered in 1972, still stir fear and suspicion of many health initiatives.

Over four decades, that Macon County, Ala., study left 400 poor black men with the sexually transmitted disease untreated long after penicillin’s discovery.

“We have to be sensitive to those concerns,” said Herndon. “Whenever we have an activity that is open to the community we show videos and offering face-to-face testimonials from community members about swine flu prevention.”

A report from the AARP Public Policy Institute says elderly African-Americans and Hispanics lag well behind elderly whites in influenza vaccination rates, even though the federal Medicare program fully covers the shots.

Citing a 2007 study published in Preventive Medicine, the report says that eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in flu vaccine coverage would prevent an estimated 1,880 minority deaths every year.

“We’re urging people to get both the seasonal winter and swine flu shots and stockpile supplies in case of a major outbreak. Safety precautions are being published in the church bulletin,” Herndon said.

Riverside and San Bernardino County health officials are urging houses of worship to take special precautions not to share utensils or other items, such as the communal cup. Unlike the Catholic Church which traditionally administers the holy sacraments from a single cup called a chalice, Temple and other Protestant churches use individual cups and wafers placed on a plate. Even so Herndon says they’re not taking chances.

“We’re going the extra mile to protect congregants and people in the community by increasing sanitization of utensils, hand washing and use of alcohol based hand cleaners. We don’t want the faithful to miss communion because they don’t feel safe.

We’re committed to ensuring a safe and clean environment during this very sacred event as well,” said Herndon.

Herndon whose 4-year-old grandson contracted the virus this spring says promotions, public education and other measures are being launched at surrounding nursing homes, day care and community centers to get high risk people inoculated against the regular flu and the H1N1 virus.

She said churches in the community are coordinating with hospitals and clinics, the San Bernardino County Emergency Preparedness Agency, 211, and other faith based organizations to make getting flu shots as convenient and accessible as possible.

Another part of the Temple community outreach strategy will involve going to community members with the vaccine instead of waiting for them to seek it out. Ideally she said the church and location in and around polling centers are highly convenient places for people to get shots.

Meanwhile area clergy and faith organizations that provide health ministries are spreading the word on preventing the spread of flu.

“If you have fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat runny nose. You might have swine flu. Stay at home, drink plenty of fluids. Limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. Don’t show up at an emergency room for a runny nose.

The first round of swine flu shots could begin sooner than expected, with some vaccine available as early as the first week of October, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday.

Researchers have discovered that one dose instead of two could be enough for healthy adults, and protection could begin once vaccinated within 10 days instead of three weeks.

Pregnant women, health care workers, children and young adults, ages six months through 24 years will be placed at the front of the line for swine flu vaccinations, according the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The winter flu vaccine is widely available now, and health authorities are urging people to get shots before the swine flu vaccine starts arriving.

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Category: Public Health