Fear! Health alert! Pandemic! These are the alarming words in the headlines as the world begins to address the outbreak of a new strain of swine flu virus. Are we on the verge of the oft-predicted next great pandemic of flu that could kill millions? Or will it turn out to be a milder form that tapers off in a few weeks? We don't know, and by the present news accounts, the experts are not sure either.
Here is what we do know. It is an H1N1 form of the flu, but scientists have not seen this particular strain before. People do not have immunity, and there is no vaccine specifically tailored to this strain. This is very important as it can take up to eight months for scientists to develop a vaccine once a virus is isolated. The disease has spread to more than 10 states in the United States. Europe is also seeing cases appear. Mexico, where it may have originated, is on full alert, with schools and many public places closed and the populace wearing face masks in public.
Influenza is an underrated disease. Most do not know that in 1918 a worldwide outbreak took the lives of more than 50 million people. Unlike most strains of influenza, it was not the elderly who suffered the most; it was the young and the healthy.
The speed with which the healthy were mowed down in country after country created a deep and lasting fear. Governments tried to keep information from the public to prevent panic. Fear kept volunteers from taking food to people too ill to feed themselves and who then starved to death. John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, writes, "The fear, not the disease, threatened to break the society apart... 'Civilization could have disappeared within a few more weeks'" (2005, p. 462).
Scientists have been predicting another such outbreak could occur today. A super flu virus like that of 1918 could appear in a remote corner of the world and spread a scorching fire around the world, with millions of people crossing international borders each day. Our global world would act like an incubating petri dish for any virus, allowing it to multiply and spread, bringing death to millions.
The critical question right now is, How prepared are the nations for a global pandemic? Barry goes to great lengths in his book to show how modern medical science had progressed to a point in 1918 that it could meet the challenge of a worldwide pandemic. Scientists today have been tracking various forms of the flu virus, especially avian flu, for years. Vaccines and knowledge have been stockpiled in anticipation of the next big outbreak. Whether all elements in society are up to the challenge is yet to be determined.
Barry writes, "Communication matters. If communication is open enough, surveillance good enough, and leadership decisive enough, there is a slight but real chance a new pandemic virus could be snuffed out at the source by isolating cases, quarantining the area, and giving antivirals" (ibid., p. 460). These are all big "ifs," since the record of some nations (for example, China in 2003 with the outbreak of the SARS virus) has not always been one of cooperation in such cases.
Pray this does not occur—and pray this will not be anything like the 1918 outbreak. What is critical for you right now is an understanding of how fragile our modern world is. A virus can kill millions, disrupt the economy and threaten the fabric of civilization. We have seen the global economy shrink into a recession in the last eight months. Events can quickly disrupt a stable, tranquil scene and dash hopes and well-prepared plans. We are living in perilous times, and the need for spiritual discernment and vigilance has never been greater.
For more information on Bible prophecies of future plague, read our series on The Horsemen of RevelationWNP