Sunday, November 08, 2009

Swine Flu Worry

This morning in Clonskeagh church the priest gave over a few minutes to discuss swine flu. A couple had recently approached him and asked what the parish was going to do to reduce the risk of spreading swine flu. You see the woman is pregnant and they felt that the sign of peace where they shake hands with fellow church goers was an unacceptable risk to her and the baby. They wanted the priest to ban the gesture in the church. The priest tried to reason with them, pointing out that it is not necessary for people to shake hands. Church goers can just make a gesture towards others by raising their hands in a wave like motion and that other parishioners would understand. This was not good enough for the couple, you see they feel bad when they refuse to shake hands with the others in the church so the only solution for them was to have the sign of peace banned in the church and then no one would try to shake hands with them.

The priest explained to the congregation the advice the parish had received from the HSE on the control of swine flu along with the steps he and the other priests take before and during mass to insure their hands are clean. How they wash their hands with soap and warm water then dry with clean towels. He said that the parish had decided some changes were now needed. The sign of peace would no longer be offered during mass. The holy water fonts would be emptied, washed with soap and left to dry. Finally communion with wine would not be offered as had been traditional during Christmas. The priest hoped these changes would be temporary and that normal routines could be restored soon.

To me this is an over reaction to a situation hyped in the media to sell newspapers. Yes swine flu is a risk but so is the annual flu. People get sick every year, the vast vast majority recover but some may die. Until Sky News and the like displayed the latest in a series of *the world is ending* headlines, swine flu was heading to the annual "there is a bad bug doing the rounds" classification we all talk about every winter. The media would not let that happen. In the last few years we have had CJD, SARS, Avian flu and Bio-terrorism to make us afraid to shake hands. At the same time we had asteroids, ice ages, global warming, and mega tsunamis to stop us going outside at all. The world has been ending for so long that sometimes I just cant remember what is about to destroy us all, at least not until I turn on Sky News and the yellow Breaking News banner informs me as to what will be killing me later that day.

It's called apocalypse fatigue. The media has spent years selling newspapers and pulling in viewers by hyping up some risk or other that has a cool sounding name like SARS or Swine Flu. They want people to be worried and scared because no one buys a newspaper to read about someone from one town away who died from the common cold but thousands will buy a newspaper that tells them 10 people are sick from Bovine Flu at the other side of Europe and how that virus could sweep the planet.

The risk is real but is it any greater than the risk we face every year from normal flu? Is the danger of swine flu worse than the danger of offending a neighbor by not shaking hands with them? The whole parish of Clonskeagh now has to stop offering each other the sign of peace not because of swine flu but because one couple were too worried they would offend others by not shaking hands.

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