Diocese of Syracuse offers information and recommendations regarding H1N1 (Swine) Flu

Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by the Diocese of Syracuse.

Recent concerns in regards to the spread of the H1N1 flu have continued to move the State of New York to a heightened surveillance stage and warrants issuing this updated document to remind everyone at our parishes, schools and all diocesan locations to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this flu, and to take reasonable and necessary precautions to secure continued good health and safety. Below are facts and recommendations which should be shared with everyone who uses parish and diocese facilities for worship, work and service. Please be aware Bishop Robert J. Cunningham may communicate more specific liturgical or administrative directives as needed and deemed appropriate if the H1N1 flu shows signs of becoming more severe or pandemic.

At this time the diocese urges everyone to monitor the status and possible spread of the H1N1 flu in their locale, and consider the need, at each location, to cease or to continue certain liturgical practices, such as Communion from the chalice, the handshake at the Sign of Peace and the common availability of holy water.

Parishioners at Mass or at other church activities should be reminded that they have the option to take part in certain liturgical actions that may include contact with others or common sharing of the chalice. Also, they should consider and be encouraged to receive Communion in the hand, rather than the mouth, if flu risks continue.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website has a link which provides 10 questions and answers in regards to the liturgical implications of the transmissions of pathogens. The link is:

At this point, regular participation in parish and school activities can continue, but all locations should be alert to and aware of any new bulletins and instructions provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local county, state or municipal officials.

The bishop and diocese encourage all to make arrangements to receive any flu vaccinations that become available and to receive vaccinations as soon as possible.

Catholic schools will continue to closely follow CDC and NYSDOH guidelines and alerts. Administrators and teachers in  schools and religious education classes should encourage healthy actions and be alert to any students who may show any symptoms of the flu. Children should not be allowed to attend classes if they are sick or if there is any concern that they are coming down with an illness. Some students may have underlying medical conditions which might be exacerbated or may make them more susceptible to the flu virus. It is important that parish or school administrators identify and monitor these students closely during a potential flu outbreak. School administrators should be aware of any requirements in regards to notifying local and state health authorities of any cases of the flu.

The symptoms of the H1N1 flu are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with the H1N1 flu.

H1N1 flu, as most flu viruses, spreads mainly from person to person through the coughing and sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, phones, or almost any surface. Infected people may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. This means the flu can be passed on to someone else before one is aware of the sickness, as well as during the illness.

To minimize the chance of picking up or spreading bacteria, hands should be washed often. Washing thoroughly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds is ideal. Carrying and using a hand sanitizer is encouraged.

Students at schools and faith formation classes should be reminded to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues.  Having a box of tissues and hand sanitizers available in every classroom is recommended.

Parish Pre-K and day care activities should be closely monitored and extra care made to control contact among the participants. Teachers and assistants must be alert to any symptoms of illness. Special care should be given to disinfect all surfaces, toys and playground equipment.

Special attention should be given to cleaning and sanitizing all surfaces of parish and school buildings that would commonly be touched by anyone, including door surfaces and hardware, pews, music books, office furniture and equipment, phones, computers and related items.

Overall, all must be constantly aware of how germs can easily be spread and avoid any circumstances that enable flu bacteria to be transferred from person to person.

As monitoring the spread and status of this flu continues, parishes should consider the need to cancel parish meetings or activities, if the local flu situation calls for such action. Parishes should be alert to any directive that Bishop Cunningham may announce and should have effective systems in place to communicate any cancellations or changes to all parishioners, employees and volunteers.

IF A PARISH OR SCHOOL TAKES ANY SIGNIFICANT PREVENTIVE ACTIONS, including CLOSING a building or CANCELLING a major parish or school event, please notify the regional vicar.  Also notify Danielle Cummings of the Communications Office at (315) 470-1476 (e-mail: daniellecummings@att.net) and Jim Merrill in Risk Management at (315) 470-1496 or e-mail jmerrill@syracusediocese.org

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