Minnesota’s churches and other places of worship have become the newest front in the battle against the flu.
As the H1N1 virus spreads, the state’s Council on Faith and Community Service Initiatives urged Friday that worship practices — including communion — be changed as a precaution against the disease.
The council, appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, recommends that the use of communal communion cups be avoided while the risk of contracting flu remains high.
Following recommendations of the state Health Department, the organization also cautions against such practices as using shared trays for communion elements.
• Worshippers with "flu-like symptoms" should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever has lifted.
• Congregations should avoid handshake rituals, such as the passing of the peace practiced by some Christian denominations.
• Churches should also suspend potluck meals during the current flu season.
Despite the precautions, the council maintains that "the risk of infectious disease transmission by most religious rites and rituals is very low."
As of this week state health officials had confirmed 278 cases of the swine flu virus in Minnesota, with three deaths. But they acknowledge that the actual number of cases is probably much higher because authorities are not testing every patient with flu symptoms, and they said last week that the virus is now "widespread” in the state.
Federal health officials have posted advice for faith-based organizations at www.tinyurl.com/yc3kgnl.
This is the second time this year that churches have had to rethink religious rituals since the flu strain emerged.
Last spring, during its initial outbreak, religious groups worldwide took similar steps to avoid transmission of the disease.
At the time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stressed increased attention to hygiene and urged priests and others who distribute communion to wash their hands with antibacterial solutions before celebrating mass.
The bishops specifically warned parishioners: "The faithful should be instructed not to receive from the cup if they feel ill."
Category: Public Health