Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 14, 2005
Common sense urged if flu hits
But epidemic worries are just speculation -->
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
The Edmonton Archdiocese is making no special preparations yet for the possibility of an avian flu pandemic, says the archdiocese's director of liturgy.
Rose Marie Fowler said talk of avian flu is "pure speculation at this time."
"But if there were such a threat as the avian flu I think the department of health would issue a statement. And then it is up to the archbishop," Fowler said.
While the chief medical officer for the Capital Health Authority agreed the possibility of an avian flu pandemic is only speculation, he said the time could come when people have to wear masks to Mass.
Fowler said that as for now, eucharistic ministers could wash their hands prior to distributing Communion to help prevent the spread of germs.
But unless a major influenza outbreak hits the Edmonton Archdiocese, there is little reason to alter any elements of the Mass, she said in an interview.
Fowler said, "We always say parishioners don't have to receive from the cup. It is always suggested that people with colds or the flu shouldn't receive in consideration for their neighbours.
"On the other hand, we are not aware of any disease being spread through the cup. Medical studies have been done and nothing has been reported."
Six hundred delegates from 100 nations met at the World Health Organization's Geneva headquarters last week to discuss the avian flu crisis and the threat it poses of starting a human influenza pandemic.
Lee Jong-wook, director general of the WHO, told the conference, "It is only a matter of time before an avian flu virus, most likely H5N1, acquires the ability to be transmitted from human to human, sparking the outbreak of human pandemic influenza.
"If we are unprepared, the next pandemic will cause incalculable human misery."
Fowler also said the archbishop's position is that every parishioner should choose whether to participate in shaking hands at the Sign of Peace or drinking the Blood of Christ at Communion.
"I recall one year when there might have been more flu than usual. Archbishop (Thomas) Collins said if parishioners wish to suspend handshaking at the Sign of Peace, they can. He suggested they make some other gesture, like a bow. I think he left it up to the individual parishes," she said.
"I'm sure if there was a big epidemic, things would change. But there has not been anything official."
Dr. Gerry Preddy, chief medical health officer for Capital Health, said, "Anybody who is serving Communion should be washing their hands before they do so because they are actually touching (others).
"They should be doing it now even though we do not have a pandemic. The sharing of the cup is something else that could be at risk because a number of infections could be transmitted that way. If we do get a pandemic, it would become more crucial to look at how the wine is served."
Perhaps the wine might be offered in individual cups or some other way that would be more acceptable from an infection control perspective, Preddy said. There may come a time when people wear masks to Mass.
Preddy emphasized that such measures are purely speculative at this time.
Capital Health's deputy medical officer of health says covering your mouth before coughing or sneezing and washing your hands frequently are proven ways to prevent the spread of germs. She calls it "respiratory etiquette."
Dr. Marsha Johnson said people do not need to fear infection from shaking hands at the Sign of Peace. Just keep your hands clean.
"We think handwashing is a really important part of staying healthy by avoiding, or picking up and transferring bacterial viruses from surfaces on another person's hands when they are still warm and moist," said Johnson.
"If you watch people, they put their hands around their heads quite frequently." They have a tendency to rub their eyes or place their fingers into their mouths, she said.
"If you are coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth. You don't cough or sneeze on other people. Use a tissue hopefully, and dispose of it appropriately. But if you can't, cover your mouth with your hands. Then wash your hands afterwards," she said. "Hands should be washed particularly after you have just used the washroom or are about to prepare food for other people."
Johnson said it is a good idea for eucharistic ministers to wash their hands before distributing Communion. Hands should be washed with warm water and enough soap to produce a lather for 20 seconds. Hands should then be rinsed clean. "They don't need to clean their hands for every person. We don't need to go crazy. But it is good hygiene," she said.