The fear that a strain of a type of flu that was first witnessed to infect people in Australia during the 2017 winter in the southern hemisphere has forced a Catholic diocese in Northern Ireland to suspended the “sign of peace” handshake during the religious masses to eliminate the risk of infection.
Compared to the number of people who were infected by the disease in 2016 in Australia, this year the number had doubled to reach a total of at least 170,000 cases by the end of the Australian winter. There were about 72 flue related deaths logged according to health officials.
And in recent weeks, there has a been a spread across the U.K. and Ireland of the H3N2 virus which is being called the “Australian flu” or the “Aussie flu.
A statement from the office of Bishop Noel Treanor said: “Having received medical advice concerning the increasing risk and impact of Australian flu, the diocese of Down and Connor has decided to reactivate … precautionary measures originally established by the diocese in response to the swine flu epidemic in 2009.
“All parishioners are reminded of good hygiene practice as recommended by the public health authority.
“Parishioners are encouraged to use disinfecting hand gels and hand wash soaps to minimise risk of infection. If anyone exhibits flu-like symptoms, they should stay at home during this illness and advise their GP.
“The customary sign of peace handshake exchanged during mass is suspended until the risk of infection is significantly reduced … Other provisions will be made for those who suffer from a coeliac condition, such as separate chalices.
“Provision should be made for all ministers to use alcohol gel or wash their hands in warm soapy water before mass and after the distribution of holy communion to minimise risk of infection.”
The diocese’s statement also acknowledged that “hospitals across Northern Ireland are currently experiencing high numbers of patient admissions of those suffering from respiratory illnesses directly linked to the flu virus” and paid tribute to the health workers engaged in combating the disease within the medical field.
“These precautionary measures are temporary and will remain under review until the risk of infection is significantly reduced.”
The resources at the NHS were being strained by the H3N2 virus, said the UK’s health secretary Jeremy Hunt. “We’ve also got an additional pressure this year of an uptick in flu and respiratory illness which we didn’t have last year,” he told Sky news.
“It’s too early to say whether we are going to experience what they experienced in Australia. But that has undoubtedly created extra pressures on the system.”
(Adapted from Theguardian.com)