Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pestilences in the news

We are informed in the scriptures that one of the signs of this last generation would be pestilences. Before diving in to this story though, it is worth mentioning that commonly scoffers will comment with something like: "we have always had diseases...Just look at the Bubonic Plague and how many it killed. Today is no different."

At first glance, that would seem like a legitimate point. But it displays a lack of knowledge of the scriptures. Jesus never said: "You will observe pestilences for the first time in history." Or, Jesus never said "There will never be any significant pestilences until the last generation". Jesus simply stated (Luke 21) that pestilences would be one of the signs of "the generation". In other words, pestilences would be something noteworthy - something we'd notice - something in the news - something getting people's attention.

In addition, Jesus said this would occur at a time when the other general signs would also be noteworthy ("wars and rumors of war", "nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom", earthquakes, famine, persecution and pestilences). Infectious diseases are most definitely newsworthy during this generation, and it is most definitely being noticed along with the other signs given.

A story that I have been following for several years (after being alerted to this medical issue by an infectious disease physician) is back in the news:

"First Case of Highly Resistant TB Seen in U.S.". There are several layers to the story.

First is this strain of TB itself - which is resistant to known treatments. As stated in this article, "This April, the World Health Organization sounded alarms by holding its first drug-resistant TB conference in Beijing. The message was clear - the disease already has spread to all continents and in increasing rapidly."

I believe if this becomes something that begins to circulate and gain momentum, it could be significant in terms of morbidity and mortality. It now appears that these fears may be realized:

"For decades, drug makers failed to develop new medicines for TB because the profits were not there. With the emergence of resistant TB, several private drug companies have started developing new treatments, but getting an entire regimen on the market could take 24 years. In the meantime, WHO estimates each victim will infect an average of 10 to 15 others annually before they die."

Also, this linked story comments on several other "resistant" infections - all emerging in the latter stages of this generation. Quotes:

"Today, all the leading killer infectious diseases on the planet — TB, malaria and HIV among them — are mutating at an alarming rate, hitchhiking their way in and out of countries. The reason: Overuse and misuse of the very drugs that were supposed to have saved us.

Just as the drugs were a manmade solution to dangerous illness, the problem with them is also manmade. It is fueled worldwide by everything from counterfeit drugmakers to the unintended consequences of giving drugs to the poor without properly monitoring their treatment. Here is what the AP found:

—In Cambodia, scientists have confirmed the emergence of a new drug-resistant form of malaria, threatening the only treatment left to fight a disease that already kills 1 million people a year.

—In Africa, new and harder-to-treat strains of HIV are being detected in about 5 percent of new patients. HIV drug resistance rates have shot up to as high as 30 percent worldwide.

—In the United States, drug-resistant infections killed more than 65,000 people last year, more than prostate and breast cancer combined. More than 19,000 people died from a staph infection alone that has been eliminated in Norway, where antibiotics are stringently limited.

'Drug resistance is starting to be a very big problem. In the past, people stopped worrying about TB, and it came roaring back. We need to make sure that doesn't happen again,' said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was himself infected with tuberculosis while caring for drug-resistant patients at a New York clinic in the early 1990s. 'We are all connected by the air we breathe, and that is why this must be everyone's problem.'"

Indeed. Pestilences are most definitely a sign of our times.

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