ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The Southern Baptist Convention could deploy its nationwide disaster-relief network if the international outbreak of swine flu becomes a pandemic in the United States, said a spokesman for the North American Mission Board.
"Now is the time for Southern Baptists and churches to prepare," Mickey Caison, team leader for NAMB's adult-volunteer mobilization team in Alpharetta, Ga., said in a news release.
Caison said because of its location near the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, NAMB and the CDC have a good working relationship. He said the SBC's 90,000 trained disaster-relief volunteers could be asked to help distribute vaccines and medications and help in inoculation centers. "It would take a lot of manpower to do this in the first three or four days," he said.
Caison said it is unlikely Southern Baptist teams would launch the mass-feeding operations common in other natural and man-made disasters, because in a pandemic nothing should be done to draw a crowd together. Instead, he said, relief workers might adapt to a "meals on wheels" model where food is delivered door to door.
NAMB published information about pandemic flu preparedness on its website after the bird flu outbreak in Asia in 1997.
While most people are familiar with seasonal influenza, it is not usually life-threatening for healthy people, according to the site, but pandemic influenza is another matter. It occurs when a new strain of flu emerges for which there is no vaccine or natural immunity. The virus spreads rapidly through populations, potentially affecting millions of people worldwide.
NAMB says a flu pandemic could also affect local churches by making it more difficult for them to meet for worship or to minister. The largest flu pandemic ever to hit the United States, the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza outbreak that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans and more than 50 million worldwide, prompted many churches to switch from the common cup to individual cups for communion.
The World Health Organization said April 29 the swine flu outbreak is moving closer to a pandemic, but the agency was not quite ready to raise its alert from level 4 to 5 on a scale of 6 for a full pandemic outbreak.
The CDC said April 29 that 91 cases of the disease had been diagnosed in 10 states and reported the nation's first fatality. Officials said they expect more illnesses and deaths in the coming days and weeks.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.