JACKSONVILLE — Some area churches are suspending the distribution of consecrated wine at Communion services in an attempt keep the flu virus in check.
According to a Jan. 9 memo from the Diocese of Tyler – of which Jacksonville's Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Rusk's Sacred Heart Church and Venerable Antonio Margil Mission in Alto are a part – Bishop Joseph Strickland directed Catholic churches in East Texas to “take precaution during the reception of the Holy Eucharist” during daily and weekend Masses and suspended the reception of consecrated wine.
“Communion is only to be given in the species of the consecrated bread,” he advised.
Cherokee County Public Health executive director Chris Taylor said Bishop Strickland's measure “truly demonstrates that public health (awareness) is everywhere, and is the responsibility of all of us.”
At present, “influenza and influenza-like illness are very serious (and) widespread in Texas and in other places across the country,” he noted, pointing out that “several things are plaguing health officials around the state” about these cases.
“This year's virus is causing severe symptoms in people that are much younger and healthier (compared to previous flu seasons). Typically, the flu and ILI are worse on the elderly and the very young, along with those that are immuno-compromised. But this season, we are seeing the illness cause severe distress in people who range in age from 15 to 50, even some deaths of people in those age groups,” he said.
Additionally, he has learned from health colleagues throughout the state that these severe symptoms have overloaded hospitals “with patients on ventilators in Intensive Care Units, among other unique influenza related activities, that are usually rare during flu season,” Taylor said.
Thankfully, he added, “we have not seen a death in Cherokee County as of yet (although) Tyler is now reporting multiple flu deaths, as have other areas around us. We are however, aware of hundreds of cases of confirmed influenza within the county, including the subtype that has hospitalized people around the state.”
Sources from First United Methodist Church and Central Baptist Church, both in Jacksonville, say that because their congregations use individual cups at communion, the possibility of cross-contamination isn't as great.
And because Central Baptist only offers communion on a quarterly basis, church officials are hoping that “everything will be overwith by the next time we have a communion service” in March, said office manager Gina Ginsel, adding, “our last communion service was at Christmas.”
Because communion is the central part of the Catholic Mass, “ministers of Holy Communion shall wash their hands before and after the distribution of Holy Communion,” Bishop Strickland said. “It is important that we safeguard the health of our parishioners the best we can during this flu season.”
To better protect oneself against the flu or flu-like illnesses, Taylor recommends adopting the following practices:
• Get vaccinated
• Use social distance from those who appear ill, and staying home, away from friends and family if you are ill
• Covering your face by coughing or sneezing into your elbow
• Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds when washing up.
While hand sanitizer is considered effective, users must wash it from their hands to remove built-up residue, ideally aiming for a hand-washing “maybe every fifth or sixth use of a hand sanitizer,” Taylor said.
If you show symptoms of the flu, contact your healthcare provider, he added.
“Physicians have been urged by Cherokee County Public Health to follow the new recommendation to treat symptoms aggressively with medications like Tamiflu,” Taylor said. “We are urging citizens not to panic, but to consider every possible precaution this flu season.”