The BBC reports today that the World Health Organization has raised the alert concerning swine flu to just under pandemic level. That means that there has been person-to-person spread of the flu in at least two countries. Now I’m a minister, not a health care professional, and obviously I’m not qualified to give medical advice. But churches have long been places where common sense public health advice has been distributed, and after reading qualified sources (on and off the Web), let me remind you of a few things you already know:
(1) Be scrupulous about washing your hands. Wash your hands before you eat. Wash your hands before you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Flu is one of those diseases that is easy to pick up on your hands, and if you don’t wash your hands you can deposit the virus right into places where it can easily infect you.
(2) You remember how to wash your hands, right? As a religious educator, this is what I’d tell kids: Wash your hands under running water, use soap, and don’t forget to wash your wrists, the backs of your hands, and between your fingers. When you start washing your hands, start singing the A-B-C song (slowly), and don’t stop washing until you get to the very end of the song — that’s how long it should take you to wash your hands.
(3) Get plenty of sleep, drink an appropriate amount of fluids, eat well, and exercise regularly. The better your health now, the less likely you will come down with the flu later.
(4) If you become ill, stay home from work or school. You’ll recover more quickly, and you won’t transmit your illness to others. And if you’re ill, or someone in your family is ill, please don’t come to church, OK?
(5) What about all those scary news stories about how a flu pandemic has the potential of shutting down the economy, so that you won’t be able to get food? I don’t know how to judge the accuracy of those news stories, but I do know that it’s plain common sense to have a couple of weeks’ worth of food and water on hand in case of emergency. Here in New England, we have to worry about the occasional blizzard, ice storm, or hurricane, and keeping some canned goods and bottled water on hand is just plain common sense. (Oh, and you always keep more than half a tank of gas in your car, just in case the power goes out and you can’t pump gas, right?)
All the above are standard public health precautions, or standard emergency preparedness precautions — in other words, these are all things you should be doing anyway. Obviously, if a swine flu pandemic does occur, it may pose unique and special problems that I am not qualified to address. And if you have better information about standard public health precautions, or standard emergency preparedness precautions, let us all know in the comments. But in any case, it won’t hurt you to follow the above common sense procedures, and it’s not a bad idea to use your church as a communications hub where you can let others know about all this.