Plagues on the Horizon?

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MP3 Audio (11.82 MB)


Plagues on the Horizon?

MP3 Audio (11.82 MB)

The world is facing a deadly development of which far too many are unaware. The latest coronavirus is just one part of the bigger picture. And there’s no easy way out, no “magic pill” we can look to for a solution.

On Nov. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a troubling new report about antibiotic-resistant bacteria titled “Antibiotic Resistant Threats in the United States, 2019.” The foreword, by CDC Director Robert Redfield, is especially urgent about not only the future danger of antibiotic-resistant infections, but the present reality.

“Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era—it’s already here,” writes Dr. Redfield, an expert in viruses and the diseases caused by them. He points out that “antibiotic resistance has been found in every U.S. state and in every country across the globe. There is no safe place from antibiotic resistance.”

When I was 11 years old, I had a four-wheeler accident that left an enormous gash on my leg. After being rushed to the hospital and undergoing surgery, I was told the medical staff had stopped counting the interior stitches at 600, and on the exterior there were 22 staples—I still have quite a scar!

After being released and going home, one evening my cat jumped in my lap, setting off searing pain from the incision.

I’ve always counted it a miracle that the initial gash narrowly missed a major artery in my leg (despite its size, it barely bled!), but the truth is that the infection discovered after the cat jumped in my lap that night was every bit as dangerous! I spent more than two weeks in the hospital with a serious staph infection, not at all grasping the danger I was in while I happily watched television to pass the time.

From “wonder drug” to stopgap

The first modern antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming. Put into medical use beginning in 1942, it was hailed as a modern miracle. Its effectiveness against bacterial infections was seen as an unprecedented triumph of science. But as Dr. Redfield laments, “You and I are living in a time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles and families are being ripped apart by a microscopic enemy.”

Today several types of resistant bacteria are not affected by even the most cutting-edge antibiotics the medical community can muster. The report estimated that there are more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States each year, killing more than 35,000 people.

The media is, and always has been, an exercise in sensationalism. As new antibiotics were discovered, Time magazine envisioned the future of antibiotic combinations as limitless: “They could give it for all infectious diseases, and many of the courses in medical school could be abolished” (“The Newest Wonder Drug,” Jan. 29, 1945, p. 66).

Alexander Fleming knew penicillin was not a cure-all that would thrust mankind into a disease-free era. He speculated that “the greatest possibility of evil in self-medication [with penicillin] is the use of too-small doses, so that, instead of clearing up the infection, the microbes are educated to resist penicillin” (“Penicillin’s Finder Assays Its Future: Sir Alexander Fleming Says Improved Dosage Method Is Needed to Extend Use,” The New York Times, June 26, 1945).

It’s now common knowledge that Fleming’s fears came true—and also that penicillin and other antibiotics are not consequence-free “wonder drugs” as once thought. Postwar optimism and the dazzle power that science held in popular opinion allowed life-threatening allergic reactions to penicillin to go unreported for years.

In a 1980 symposium titled The History of Antibiotics, James Whorton reported unfortunate “cases of several physicians who knew themselves to have allergic tendencies, yet treated their own colds with penicillin—and died from the reactions” (“‘Antibiotic Abandon’: the Resurgence of Therapeutic Rationalism,” J. Parascandola, editor, 1980).

Colds, and many deadly illnesses, are caused by viruses, against which antibiotics are totally ineffective. But reckless antibiotic over-prescription and use for viral infections is still common. The “miracle drugs” never truly performed miracles.

Antibiotics were believed to usher in the end of disease, but in reality were only an imperfect stopgap.

The growing fear of MRSA

Staph infections, like the one I had as a child, are caused by the bacterium known as Staphylococcus aureus, an organism so common it’s even found on human skin. This is not usually a problem since God designed our skin as a natural barrier and first line of defense against harmful microorganisms, and it works amazingly well! Surgeries of all types carry the risk of infection because the skin must be breached, and the presence of Staphylococcus bacteria in hospitals is inevitable.

The first documented case of an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection in a human being occurred in 1968, marking the discovery of the first known methicillin-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus—giving rise to the all-too-familiar acronym MRSA (pronounced “mersa”) that has haunted headlines since.

The recent CDC report includes a plan for more stringent controls of antibiotic use to hold out against the growing problem. Dr. Redfield states, “These actions are protecting us today and will continue to protect us, our families, and our nation from a threat that will never stop” (emphasis added). There is little hope in this vision of the future. At best he sees a never-ending fight for survival against devastating, merciless and unseen enemies.

Inevitable epidemics

Disease epidemics are nothing new. A 2006 article from the journal Influenza titled “1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics” recalls the flu virus (known as the Spanish Flu) that infected and caused symptoms in 500 million people worldwide over a span of just two years, sickening a full one-third of the earth’s population. Total deaths from the Spanish Flu are estimated at a staggering 50-100 million—rivaling the total death toll of World War II.

Viral outbreaks are of even greater concern than antibiotic-resistant bacteria—they can potentially spread faster, making them very difficult to contain, and they are not affected by antibiotics at all.

Experts argue that world conditions are now ripe for an even worse outbreak than the Spanish Flu. The unprecedented world population, approaching 8 billion, has led to overcrowding in urban areas throughout the world. Combining the poor sanitation conditions in many countries with the ease and prevalence of air travel, today’s world could allow a highly contagious disease to spread faster than ever before in human history.

Recently, we have seen this playing out with the outbreak of coronavirus from the city of Wuhan, China. At the time of this writing, tens of thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths have been reported, though many believe the Chinese government is purposefully underreporting to prevent people from panicking. Additional cases are appearing all over the world.

Meanwhile, even the common flu virus carries a tremendous burden of sickness and death throughout the world year after year. The 2019-2020 flu season, according to the CDC, has already resulted in 22 million infections and 12,000 deaths in the United States alone! Every year carries with it the fear that a particularly virulent and deadly strain of influenza will again crop up.

Jesus Christ warned that, prior to His return, “there will be famines, pestilences [disease epidemics], and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7-8). Similarly, the fourth of the four horsemen in the book of Revelation is described as “a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death” (Revelation 6:8). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “‘Pale’ (chloros) denotes a yellowish green, the light green of a plant, or the paleness of a sick person in contrast to a healthy appearance.”

In other words, Bible prophecy confirms mounting epidemic fears—but also reveals a source of healing and hope.

God will turn the tables

In Hosea 13:14, God promised to turn the tables: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O grave, I will be your destruction!” Jesus Christ died in order to overcome death in all its forms and from all its causes.

In Isaiah 53:5, we read that “the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Christ suffered to bring about the end of suffering, including disease. The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the previous verse, Isaiah 53:4, to say that “He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains.”

Followers of Jesus Christ therefore have tremendous hope! James 5:14 instructs the sick to seek healing through anointing with oil by church elders, and verse 15 then states that “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up”! While God does not now heal every sickness among His Church in this life, by faith in Jesus Christ and through the promise of the new covenant we have the hope of the resurrection—the ultimate healing!

Furthermore, God has a plan for all mankind that is contrary to the CDC director’s bleak prediction of “a threat that will never stop.”

The hope of all mankind

Thankfully, the Bible describes a future when our all-powerful God will take control and put an end to human suffering. That does not mean simply stepping in to instantly heal every disease. Rather, it starts by establishing a never-ending Kingdom under which mankind will learn the right way to live and be blessed abundantly.

As humanity finally learns to obey our Creator, God will eradicate disease, fulfilling in even greater measure the words spoken to ancient Israel: “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight . . . I will put none of the diseases on you [that defiance of God had brought on others] . . . For I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26).

Ultimately, God’s plan is to transform the world—all who will obey and submit to Him—into a new creation, where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Revelation 21:4).

The “microscopic enemy” Dr. Redfield refers to—antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection—is just one of the many agents of our great enemy death, which Paul described as the “last enemy that will be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

That wonderful future with no need for antibiotics will be the true “post-antibiotic era”! It is not a time to fear, but a time to hope and pray for—it is coming!