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H1N1 virus could kill 90,000 in U.S.

Faith-based organizations prepare for expected return of swine flu


"We’re in this strange wait and see period right now"

—Rev. Kevin Massey, Lutheran Disaster Response

Faced with a prediction that half the U.S. population could get sick from Swine Flu this fall, overwhelming hospitals and leading to the deaths of as many as 90,000 people, faith-based organizations are trying to prepare members and staff for the coming pandemic.

These stark predictions are contained in a report released Tuesday by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report estimates that between 60 to 120 million Americans could get the illness, also known as the H1N1 virus. The report suggests 1.8 million people will be hospitalized and 300,000 will need to be treated in intensive care units.

With schools back in session and the vaccine still not available, faith-based disaster response organizations suggest local churches, faith-based groups will have to balance serving community needs with a potentially dwindled staff if the illness affects them. Many of these groups are forming plans to both serve the community if the Swine Flu hits, as well as educate people on how to prevent it.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says one of the best ways to stay healthy is to stay informed. Faith based disaster organizations are working to help with that. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is just one of the sites providing information on their own Website.

“We’re not experts on swine flu. We’re just trying to facilitate connections with the resources that are reliable and authoritative,” said Randy Ackley, Coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).

First detected in April 2009, the virus has been found in many countries throughout the world including the United States, Canada and Mexico. The World Health Organization (WHO) has since raised its pandemic alert level to six – the highest on its scale. As the flu continues to spread, community organizations must be prepared to help support areas with an outbreak. They must do this while also preparing for the possibility that their own staff, volunteers and/or partners may be reduced if there is an outbreak in the area.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has put together resources on its Website regarding the H1N1 virus as well. These include links to information from the CDC as well as original resources for congregations. One of them is titled “Congregational Planning for Flu Pandemic” – this document provides specific information on how to continue with church services in the middle of a pandemic.

The Rev. Kevin Massey, Director for Lutheran Disaster Response and Director for ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, said LDR wants to be prepared in case the pandemic affects churches. This may include performing worship services via Web cam or other creative uses of technology that allow congregations to function without risking people’s health. As more information about the illness is revealed, their congregations strive to be a source of support for its members.

LDR is preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best. “We’re in this strange wait and see period right now,” Massey says.

In May, the CDC released guidance on handling public gathering in how it relates to the prevention of H1N1. These gatherings include church services, weddings, conferences and other gatherings where large numbers of people congregate. Because it is hard to keep your distance from others in these circumstances, the CDC offers these suggestions:

- People with flu-like symptoms should stay home for 7 days.

- People in the high-risk category should consider their risk before attending social gatherings.

- Everyone should use proper hygiene.

The CDC recommends some basic steps to individuals as well. Their list includes washing hands properly, using tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and to avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Also, officials say you should stay at home if you feel ill to prevent others from getting ill. When the vaccine is available, those in the higher risk category should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

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