"And there shall be pestilences..." (Matthew 24:7)
Less than 20 years ago the medical profession claimed victory over a wide array of bacterial and viral killers. In 1979, U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart declared that it was time to "close the books on infectious diseases."14
As recently as 1983, a medical textbook declared infectious diseases "more easily prevented and more easily cured" than any other major group of disorders.15
But instead of fading, the cases of infectious diseases have skyrocketed throughout the ’90s. Dr. Sherwin Nuland, in his best-selling book, How We Die16, laments, "Medicine’s purported triumph over infectious disease has become an illusion."17
Doctors now warn that the current resurgence of drug-resistant bacteria strains could prove to be more deadly than AIDS. AP reports:
The emergence of bacteria strains that cannot be killed by the current arsenal of antibiotics could become a public health threat worse than AIDS, experts warn.
Diseases considered conquered — tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis, staph infections — are becoming unstoppable. Common bacteria that cause everything from toddlers’ ear infections to pneumonia could become "supergerms" resistant to vancomycin and other drugs.
Scientists expect "nothing short of a medical disaster," Dr. Alexander Tomasz of Rockefeller University in New York City warned at the 1994 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.18
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 resistance.19
AIDS and Ebola may be just cautionary warnings of many other killer viruses that could suddenly flash through the human population as a result of genetic mutation or social changes that favor the disease, experts say.
"We probably are seeing only the tip of the iceberg in the number of viruses that can exist in humans," said Dr. Morse, an expert on Ebola. Richard Courtney of Pennsylvania State University said the recent pattern is that "emerging viral diseases are becoming more frequent, not less."20
The AIDS Explosion
As AIDS continues its global rampage, the statistics have become staggering. UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS, in its year-end estimates released in December 1996, stated that 3.1 million new HIV infections occurred that year. 1.5 million people died of AIDS in 1996, bringing the total of AIDS-related deaths to 6.4 million. As of this writing, over 24 million people are living with HIV / AIDS, which means well over 30 million have been infected since the disease was first recognized in 1981.21
The World Health Organization (WHO) says "around the world more than 6,000 people every day are infected with HIV and the epidemic is getting worse. Heterosexual transmission now accounts for about 75 percent of all HIV infections."22 WHO spokesman Christopher Powell has predicted the number of HIV-positive people will reach 40 million by the year 2000.23
Aside from the above-mentioned plagues, there is, of course, cancer, which is considered non-infectious. 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 supply. Virtually unheard of among our ancestors, over 100 different kinds of cancer now kill over 6 million people every year. A dramatic rise in the deadly skin cancer melanoma is attributed to the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer, which blocks much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
PESTILENCES A GLOBAL
(AP) -- The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 killed about 20 million people, more than twice the number who died in World War I, before it vanished. And it could happen again.
HIV appeared in the early 1980s, and the lethal disease may infect 40 million by the year 2000. Researchers haven't found a cure, or even a dependable treatment.
The Ebola virus appeared in Zaire and killed scores before quarantine and other measures brought it under control. Scientists are searching now for the origin of the killer disease.
Disease is on the march, and the human race is not now ready to defend itself against what is really an unending siege by pestilence, say the experts.
Dr. James Hughes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that while new diseases, such as HIV, are emerging, old diseases such as tuberculosis, plague and cholera are returning to kill again. Many of the older diseases have become troublesome again because they have developed resistance to antibiotics or because of failed public health measures, such as poor sanitation in overcrowded cities.
"Microbes don't respect international boundaries," Hughes said at a briefing on the report. "We really have a global crisis."