Churches, Mission Groups Prepare for Swine Flu Threat

As alarm over swine flu intensifies, church denominations are joining other public institutions in offering recommendations to their members on how to best respond to the airborne virus.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, advises its members to set out a plan in case a pandemic outbreak occurs.

Families should make sure they have food and water to last for two weeks, the denomination's disaster relief arm advises. Also, adults should plan a mode of communication with the outside world if they are forced to stay at home for an extended period of time.

As for the church, congregations need to think about how they can still function as the body of Christ when they cannot meet to worship and pastors cannot visit hospitals or homes.

Similarly, the Christian Reformed Church in North America is asking its congregations in the United States and Canada to make plans on how they will respond if swine flu hits epidemic level.

"Each congregation is different and, as a result, each church must develop a unique Pandemic Response Plan based on the needs of its congregation," reads a letter sent to church councils by the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.

Both CRWRC's and the SBC's disaster relief teams have been communicating with government health officials regarding the flu outbreak, they said. CRWRC has worked with federal and emergency health authorities in Canada, while the SBC has been in contact with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.

In addition to churches, mission groups are also being affected by the flu outbreak. U.S.-based ministry Youth for Christ says it is watching the situation closely and deciding whether it will go through with several planned short-term mission trips this year.

More than 100 people were scheduled to go on a short-term mission trip to Mexico this summer through YFC, according to Mission Network News.

"We're really thinking that in the next 10 to 14 days we [will understand] what the true impact of this is on Mexico," said Jerry Johnson, ministry advancement coordinator for YFC, to MNN.

There has been 331 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, up from 257 cases worldwide on Thursday, the World Health Organization said Friday. In America, swine flu has been confirmed in 19 states with the latest total standing at 141 cases, according to the CDC.

Although the virus has spread to 11 countries, Mexico and the United States are the hardest hit countries. There have been 156 confirmed cases in Mexico and nine deaths caused by the virus, according to WHO. However, Mexican officials say there are more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus and the death toll has increased to 12. Mexican officials also suspect that more than 150 deaths are related to the virus.

In the United States, schools with confirmed or possible cases of swine flu were closed on Thursday. Meanwhile, all schools were closed in Mexico and most public businesses are shut down.

Symptoms of the H1N1 virus include fever, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

U.S. officials have promised to produce enough swine flu vaccine for everyone, but scientists have only now started to prepare the vaccine for the never-before-seen flu strain, according to The Associated Press. Mass production, if everything goes smoothly, would start at the earliest in the fall.

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