The current A/H1N1 flu ("swine flu") outbreak in Mexico has resulted in the World Health Organization (WHO) asking countries around the world to step up their reporting and surveillance of influenza, and prepare for a possible pandemic.
At this point, no special precautions need to be taken in British Columbia by individuals or by organizations that hold public meetings, including the parishes of our diocese.
WHO has raised its global pandemic alert to Level 5 from Level 4, which means that human-to-human spread of the virus has taken place in more than one country. The World Health Organization stresses that progressing through to Level 6, a full pandemic, is not inevitable. While several cases have been diagnosed in Canada and in British Columbia (as of May 1), most have been among people who recently were in Mexico, and all cases have been described as mild.
It is best to be prepared. The Anglican Church of Canada and several of its dioceses have been engaged in planning what to do in case a full pandemic is declared. In our diocese, Assistant Treasurer Ian Robertson recently attended an Emergency Management Planning Roundtable in Toronto sponsored by the Public Health Agency of Canada on how faith-based organizations can respond to and assist during times of emergency. This planning continues.
Standard, common-sense precautions apply which prevent the transmission of any viral or bacterial diseases:
Wash your hands. Hand-washing is the single most effective method of preventing the spread of illness. The use of hand sanitizers appears to be a good alternative or supplement.
Cover your cough. Sneeze and cough into your elbow or sleeve or use a tissue. After wiping or blowing your nose with a tissue, throw away the tissue and wash your hands. Keep your fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
Stay home if you are sick. Parishioners who show symptoms such as fever, very sore throat, constant coughing, sneezing, chills, head and body aches, fatigue, etc., should be encouraged to stay home, and not make superhuman efforts to perform parish duties. This includes priests and deacons.
The exchange of the peace and distribution of communion may still take place. Again, common sense rules apply: those distributing communion should make sure they have clean hands by washing them or using a hand sanitizer.
Those who feel ill should refrain from embracing or handshaking during the peace, and not administer communion. If an individual feels ill, or is uncomfortable exchanging the peace, a gentle bow suffices as a greeting.
There has never been any evidence that members of Christian Churches whose liturgical practice includes the Common Cup-such as the Anglican Church-have ever been at any greater risk of disease. No episode of disease attributable to the Common Cup has ever been reported. For the average communicant it would seem that the risk of drinking from the common cup is probably less than the risk of air-borne infection in using a common building. However, Anglican liturgical tradition does allow for receiving communion in one kind only, if people prefer this for any reason.
Intinction, because it involves holding a wafer with the hands, is not a safer practice than drinking from the cup. Intinction may be less safe, since hands are at least as likely to be a source of infection as are lips.
Throughout history, our Christian tradition reminds us that the Church can be an agent of calm, reassurance and compassion during times of uncertainty. Our mission includes being called by Christ to tend to those who are sick, fearful or anxious. This we will continue to do.
As updates are required, they will be sent as soon as possible. Do check the diocesan website, http://www.vancouver.anglican.ca
Many additional resources are available. Here are a few
The Public Health Agency of Canada (for the latest news):
The BC Centre for Disease Control:
Information gathered by the Diocese of Toronto:
Information about the Common Cup:
A theological reflection by Toronto Area Bishop Linda Nicholls, General Synod's former coordinator for dialogue: