Flu epidemic prompts changes Catholic churches - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Flu epidemic prompts changes Catholic churches

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Area hospitals are reporting a downward trend right now in the number of confirmed flu cases.

Although, medical professionals are preparing for another uptick, as Central Texans and especially children, return to class and work after being cooped up over the holidays.

The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department is now confirming a sixth flu-related death.

One person tested positive for the H1N1 strain of the flu and the other, according to reps, had received the flu vaccine before succumbing to the illness.

Meanwhile, concerns about the flu are making some churches make changes.

If you're Catholic, attending mass means participating in plenty of rituals. But, for some, there are concerns about certain rites and ceremonies...when it's flu season.

"Catholics, traditionally, receive the body and blood of Christ during Communion, and so, during flu season, this season, Bishop Vasquez has left it to the pastors to decide to stop using the cup or offering the cup during Mass," said Christian Gonzalez, with the Catholic Diocese.

It's called "suspending the cup." Instead of drinking the wine and receiving the bread, parishioners are only offered the Eucharist.

"In the past, there have been other times that we have said, across the diocese, we need to suspend the cup across the board, just because of the dangers of influenza," Gonzalez said.

Some other parts of the Catholic service include saying the Lord's Prayer, while holding hands...and there's also the exchanging of a sign of peace, with a handshake.

Gonzalez said, "You could say 'peace be with you' or 'peace be with you' anything like that. So, you're not actually touching, but you're acknowledging the person next to you."

Most people worry about catching germs from touching each other, but did you ever think about when you touch the back of a pew? Or, maybe a hymnal? These are a lot dirtier than you may think.

"If you are sick during flu season, it is okay to stay home and to miss Mass. That is okay," Gonzalez said. "And we say, if your children are sick, don't send them to Sunday school to spread the flu, keep them at home and get them well."

The Catholic Diocese has 127 churches in the Central Texas Area...and with some having up to five masses a weekend, it could be a breeding ground for the virus.

"We have heard that several pastors have decided to suspend the cup," said Gonzalez.

The recommendation came out just after the beginning of the year and for those who decide to stay home while they're sick, the diocese says they consider it an "act of love."

In Houston, some doctors say they've been completely out of the flu vaccine for a month.

Some of our area pharmacies have had some spot vaccine shortages, but hospital reps say they're confident we have a sufficient supply in our community.

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