Regarding the current flu situation, the Health and Social Care Agency (HSC) Northern Ireland states that “seasonal flu is an annual event of varying severity. In the past few weeks there has been an increase in flu activity in Northern Ireland. However, the season is defined as having low flu activity to date.”

In a press release of 2 January 2018, the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland states that “the number of reported cases of influenza-like illnesses in Ireland increased in the week before Christmas, meaning that flu is now actively circulating in Ireland.”

Given the increase in flu activity, North and South, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of sensible hygiene practices. To reduce the spread of the flu virus the HSC suggests the following simple steps: “Carry tissues; use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; dispose of the dirty tissues quickly; wash your hands regularly; clean hard surfaces (such as door handles) frequently using your usual cleaning product.”

The HSE offers similar advice and states: “Covering your nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon as you can are important measures in helping prevent the spread of influenza and other germs and reducing the risk of transmission.”

It is good practice to supply tissues and hand gels at church liturgies and gatherings, particularly for anyone, including priests, distributing Holy Communion, with bins for disposal of used tissues.

Make sure all hard surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles, handrails and taps are cleaned regularly with a household detergent or antiseptic wipes.

You are aware that the invitation to give the Sign of Peace at Mass is optional (GIRM 154). Although, in times of previous flu alerts the Health Service Executive stated that “shaking hands while exchanging the ‘Sign of Peace’ involves a low risk of spreading the virus,” priests may wish to use their own discretion according to the prevalence of flu in their own locality. It is good to remember that those with flu symptoms are dispensed from their Sunday obligation to attend Mass.

If, however, some parishioners still feel uncomfortable when invited to offer the Sign of Peace in the traditional manner, they are welcome to wish others the Peace of Christ without hand contact but instead with a ‘simple bow’.

11 January 2018