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October 25, 2009

Protecting ourselves against H1N1 flu virus

By Michelle Martin


Students at Holy Family Academy in Inverness wash their hands as soon as they arrive at school, as well as before and after lunch and after recess. Those with runny noses, fevers or upset stomachs are sent home immediately.

Ministers of Communion at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills are reminded to use hand sanitizers before and after distributing Communion, as have Communion ministers at St. Juliana and several other parishes.

St. Juliana and St. Ferdinand, both on the Northwest Side, offered parishioners opportunities to get regular seasonal flu shots.

This fall, as the H1N1 virus makes its presence known in schools and workplaces across the United States, Catholic parishes and schools are trying to take common sense precautions to limit the spread of the disease.

The number one recommendation is that people who are sick – with fever or with respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms – should stay home to avoid passing germs on to others.

At Holy Family Academy, school nurse Kathy Knuth said there have been more absences than usual, and more students have been sent home with symptoms. Most parents are complying with the request to keep sick children home, she said.

While some students at the school have had flu-like symptoms, none has been confirmed as having the H1N1 virus; however, most patients are no longer being tested because of the prevalence of the virus.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, which has a committee working on precautions to avoid the spread of the virus, also has information for parishes and schools.

The archdiocese has asked that parishes encourage good hand hygiene and ask sick parishioners to stay home, as well as reminded worshippers that they can offer a Sign of Peace that does not include shaking hands with others.

“All of us would do well to remember that frequent cleansing of the hands, either with soap and water or with an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution, combats the spread or contraction of the flu,” according to a statement on the archdiocesan Web site. “This need is especially important for those who minister Holy Communion during the celebration of the Eucharist.”

However, parishes are still offering Communion under both kinds, with participants able to choose whether to drink from the cup.

Schools and religious education programs have been encouraged to change policies that require students to attend all or nearly all classes, so as not to penalize those who stay home when they are sick.

For information, visit