“And there will be pestilences…”
AS WITH WAR AND FAMINE, the severity and frequency with which “pestilences”—epidemics of highly infectious diseases—continue to strike is alarming.
Last century, the medical profession prematurely claimed victory over a wide array of bacterial and viral killers. In 1979, then-U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart declared that it was time to “close the books on infectious diseases.”29
As recently as 1983, a medical textbook declared infectious diseases “more easily prevented and more easily cured” than any other major group of disorders.30
But instead of fading, the cases of infectious diseases skyrocketed throughout the ’90s. Dr. Sherwin Nuland, in his bestselling book, How We Die,31 laments, “Medicine’s purported triumph over infectious disease has become an illusion.”32 Doctors now warn that the current resurgence of drug-resistant bacteria strains could prove to be more deadly than AIDS.
The book The Killers Within charts the acceleration of resistant infections that began with a few cases in the late 1980s and are now spiraling out of control. The germs, once killed easily with standard antibiotics, can disintegrate skin, clog the lungs and carve golf-ball-size abscesses in flesh.
“The bad bugs are getting stronger and they’re getting stronger faster,” says co-author Mark Plotkin, a Smithsonian Institution ethnobotanist.
The epidemic comes as pharmaceutical companies have all but stopped doing research on antibiotics.33
Drug-resistant bugs are out of control. The epicenter of this epidemic lies inside the hospital. Each year, estimates the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 100,000 Americans die of hospital-bred infections, a higher toll than deaths from breast cancer and AIDS combined. Nearly 2 million patients get hospital infections (of a total 35 million stays), and two-thirds of them have infections that resist at least one drug. This crisis costs us $30 billion a year.34
A “virtually untreatable” form of tuberculosis (TB) has emerged, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Extreme drug resistant TB (XDR TB) has been seen worldwide. XDR TB is defined as strains that are not only resistant to the front-line drugs, but also three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.
This, according to Dr. Paul Nunn, coordinator of the WHO team at the Stop TB department, makes it virtually untreatable.
Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB), which describes strains of TB that are resistant to at least two of the main first-line TB drugs, is already a growing concern. Globally, the WHO estimates there are about 425,000 cases of MDR TB a year, mostly occurring in the former Soviet Union, China, and India.35
The Antibiotic Backfire
Why this sudden reemergence of diseases that were once considered to be waning or almost eliminated? Ironically, the experts say that it’s the widespread misuse of drugs designed to eliminate them that is now responsible for the new super-strains.
Critics complain of a “B-52 approach” among some doctors who blitz their patients with a battery of broad-based antibiotics, often when they are unsure exactly what is making them sick. Experts also suspect that the wide use of antibiotics in animal feed is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.36
The medical community is now warning that not only are bacterial plagues on the rise, but viral killers like AIDS and Ebola are occurring more frequently than ever. But the threat from influenza might be the most dangerous of all.
The influenza virus has developed the ability to circumvent the human body’s main defense against the disease, raising the prospect of a deadly new global outbreak, scientists have discovered.
Research into an outbreak of the illness [in 1997], which killed one-third of its victims, has established that the strain responsible was able to bypass completely its victims’ first and most crucial immune response to the infection.
Dr. Klaus Stohr, the leader of the World Health Organization’s global influenza program, called the 1997 outbreak “the last warning from nature” that the world must prepare for a flu pandemic.
The biggest threat comes from strains created when one form of the virus jumps from an animal species to a human already infected with a more common type of flu. Inside the human host, the two viruses combine to create a brand-new strain to which no one on the planet has any prior immunity. That virus can then race through the population like a fire through dry tinder. This, scientists now think, is what happened during the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918 and 1919—the most deadly flu of all time.
Throughout the world, the Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide—more lives than were claimed by the Black Death in the 1300s.
Another pandemic is inevitable. “Pandemics come in cycles and we’re overdue for one,” says Dr. Donald Perlman, an immunologist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey. Scientists particularly worry about avian flu viruses common in Asia.37
“New diseases are emerging at the historically unprecedented rate of one per year,” the WHO’s director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, said in an introduction to the 2007 World Health Report.
“It would be extremely naïve and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola, or another SARS, sooner or later,” the report said.
In 1951, when WHO issued its first set of health regulations to prevent the international spread of diseases, the situation was stable, the report said. People traveled internationally by ship, slowing the spread of diseases around the world. New diseases were rare.
But today, high volumes of people can quickly travel worldwide, meaning an outbreak or epidemic in any part of the planet is only a few hours away from becoming an imminent threat somewhere else, the report said. Over the last five years, WHO confirmed more than 1,100 disease outbreaks worldwide, such as cholera, polio and bird flu.38
The AIDS Explosion
AIDS statistics are staggering. UNAIDS stated that an estimated 2.5 million new HIV infections occurred in 2007. In that year, 2.1 million people died of AIDS. As of the end of 2007, over 33.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.39
More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans. Young people (15–24 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide—around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.40
Aside from the above-mentioned plagues, there is, of course, cancer, which is considered noninfectious. Scientists estimate that about 80 percent of cancers are caused by environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke (actively or passively inhaled) and the ingestion of harmful chemicals in our modern food and water supply. Over 200 different kinds of cancer now kill over 6 million people every year.
Jesus said that plagues and diseases would precede His return. Nevertheless, the Bible also tells us that God can protect and even heal those who trust in Him: “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Psalm 91:10). “But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2).
- Andrea Hamilton, “Bacteria Become Ever More Resistant,” The Washington Times, 20 Nov 1994.
- “The Infection Comeback,” U.S. News & World Report, 29 Jan 1996.
- Sherwin B. Nuland and Alfred A. Knopf, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. (New York: Random House, 1994.)
- “The End of Antibiotics,” Newsweek, 28 Mar 1994, pp 47–48.
- Brad Evenson, “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the rise,” National Post, Dec 2002.
- Robert Langreth and Matthew Herper, “Germ warfare,” Forbes, 19 Jun 2006.
- “‘Virtually untreatable’ TB found,” BBC News, 6 Sep 2006.
- “Deadly flu virus heightens doctors’ fears of new pandemic,” Electronic Telegraph, 22 Sep 2002.
- “Medical Pros Fear Flu Pandemic,” Daily News, 3 Oct 2004.
- “Diseases spreading faster with travel,” AP, 23 Aug 2007.
- UNAIDS, AIDS Epidemic Update—December 2007.
- Avert, “Worldwide HIV & AIDS Statistics,” (2007).
- The Future Foretold
- A World at War
- “Mommy, I’m Hungry!”
- A Plagued Planet
- The Big Shake-up
- Our Violent World
- The “Me” Generation
- The Good News Goes Global
- Globetrotters and Jetsetters
- Information Overload
- The Pagan Revival
- The Beast That Is to Come
- The “Mark of the Beast”
- The Second Coming
- Faith to Face the Future