By Susan Gately - 12 January, 2018
Twenty thousand people in Ireland had the flu or flu-like symptoms last week. Against this background, a number of Catholic dioceses in Ireland have recommended measures to minimise the spread of disease.
In Down and Connor, Bishop Noel Treanor, reactivated precautionary measures established in response to the ‘Swine Flu’ epidemic in 2009, which include a suspension of the ‘sign of peace’ handshake, the “suspension of Holy Communion under both species” and the requirement that all ministers “use alcohol gel or wash their hands in warm soapy water before Mass and after the distribution of Holy Communion to minimise risk of infection”. Parishioners are also encouraged to use “disinfecting hand gels and hand wash soaps to minimise risk of infection”.
In Dublin, parishioners have been reminded that those with flu symptoms are “dispensed from their Sunday obligation to attend Mass”. In a statement it advised these people to honour the Lord’s Day by “praying along with the Mass broadcast by Parish Radio, on Parish webcams”.
Previous flu alerts from the HSE stated that shaking hands during the ‘Sign of Peace’ involved a “low risk” of spreading the virus, however, said the Dublin diocesan statement, if some parishioners still felt uncomfortable about this, they could “wish others the Peace of Christ without hand contact (with a smile or a bow)”.
Recommendations in Dublin include supplying tissues and hand gels at church liturgies for the duration of the current flu outbreak, particularly for anyone distributing Holy Communion, with bins for disposal of used tissues.
The Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr John Buckley, has asked priests to temporarily suspend the traditional sign of peace handshake. He suggests that priests ask congregations to consider using an alternative non-contact gesture to reflect the symbolism and meaning of the sign of peace. “This could range from a wave, a bow or simply a smile to show friendship and respect towards other Mass goers.”
Yesterday, the HSE reiterated its call to “vulnerable people” to take up the flu vaccine, even though it is not a full immunisation against the current H3N2 ‘Australian’ flu. Noting the threefold increase in flu last week, Dr Kevin Kelleher said he believed the outbreak would peak this week or next. Even after the peak he said, the flu would be present, declining gradually over four to five weeks. “It is important to note when I say ‘peaks’ it doesn’t collapse,” he added.
Symptoms of the Australian flu strain, which has killed 300 people in Australia, include fever, headache, general aches or pains, extreme exhaustion, sneezing, sore throat, cough or chest discomfort.