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Avian flu plan for Church in US

01 March 2007

by Rachel Harden

PARISHES in the Episcopal Church in the United States have been issued with guidelines in the event of an avian flu pandemic, which include “social distancing”.

The Revd Phillip Cato, an expert in pandemic preparedness, has warned that parishes will need “an immediate, highly co-ordinated” response, which should be organised now.

Parishes are being urged to educate church members on respiratory- and hand-hygiene, social distancing (maintaining a three-foot space away from others), and signs or symptoms of avian flu. Other coping strategies include home readiness, end-of-life issues, potential for large-scale loss of life, and mass burials.

Mr Cato, from St John’s, Olney, in Maryland, is a retired priest who has worked for many years with the National Institutes of Health and of Child Health and Development. He prepared the 28-page document Pandemic Influenza Planning*, which includes a PowerPoint presentation, with other disaster professionals.

In the guidelines, which were sent last week to all dioceses and parishes, church members are asked to identify homebound parishioners who would be in special need of help. “In the event of a full pandemic flu, the nation’s infrastructure may be jeopardised. Homebound individuals are at risk of not receiving basic services (e.g. electricity and groceries), and may have particular need for support and communication.”

As there is no specific treatment for bird flu, Mr Cato stresses that medical care will focus on symptom management, and that a communication plan and a chain of command should be established before any outbreak. Individuals and families are encouraged to make use of the pack, but there is also a call for the whole community to be made aware of what to do in case of a pandemic.

Congregations are also asked to consider various ethical questions in the case of an outbreak. These include: who will receive ministry from the church? Who from the church will be willing to minister? What is the parish’s obligation to nearby but unaffiliated neighbours?

The report stresses that although there are no definitive answers, these are all issues that should be considered.

*For a copy of the guidelines, email phillipcato@yahoo.com or visit www.episcopalchurch.org.

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