MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The flu continues to sweep the nation and now it's causing some churches across the country to take precautions. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is calling this flu season the worst it's been in nearly a decade. As the numbers of flu related deaths continue to rise, churches across the country are altering their services to prevent passing the virus. One local church in Myrtle Beach is doing something unique. Surfside United Methodist Church encourages elbow bumping at the beginning of the service during the passing of the peace and at the end of service, all in an effort to prevent spreading germs.
According to the State Department of Health and Environmental Control, as of February 7, approximately 106 people have died in South Carolina during this current flu season. That number is expected to grow as the aggressive flu season nears its peak. Even the smallest interaction with someone that may have the virus can spread the illness rapidly. Schools, offices and businesses everywhere are taking precautions to avoid spreading the illness. Some Catholic churches around the country are suspending their communal wine and encouraging parishioners to avoid hugging or shaking hands; they are even asking those that are sick to stay home and skip mass.
Pastor Scarlett Hester at Surfside United Methodist Church says she hopes by encouraging elbow bumping, it raises awareness not just in church, but when people go out into the community as well. She says practicing good hygiene is crucial for flu season.
"The passing of the peace we do at the beginning of the service normally is shaking hands and hugging. You know people are glad to see each other. But during this time of year, we encourage people not to hug, not to shake hands. If they must to please use hand sanitizer and go wash their hands with soap and water as soon as possible. We have plenty of hand sanitizer floating around the building. It is actually at a different time in the service. Whenever we have communion the hand sanitizer is prominently displayed and used," said Hester.
It's been an aggressive flu season nationwide. Federal health officials say this season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic in 2009. A government report out Friday shows 1 of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That ties the highest level seen in the U.S. during the swine flu in 2009. "Since we are so close together in an enclosed space. It's better not to share our germs. We truly regret that we are in this position, but it's better," said Hester.
Pastor Hester says she first got the idea of elbow bumping from a preschool in Charleston, and they plan to continue to keep elbow bumping until flu cases start to decline.