Posts tagged ‘Epidemic’

The Coronavirus: Serving Our Sick Neighbors

File:Staff monitoring passengers' body temperature in Wuhan railway station during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.jpg

Credit: Wikipedia

It’s spreading so quickly. What started as a little-known virus, infecting a group of people in Wuhan in eastern China, is now spreading across the world. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency. The United States has issued a Level 4 travel advisory, its highest alert, against travel to China.

Part of what makes the coronavirus so frightening is the unknowns associated with it. A live map that tracks the virus shows over 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus. Almost over 500 people have recovered from the virus while over 350 have, sadly, died. This leaves over 16,000 people who are still sick and whose fates we are still awaiting. Doctors are also not sure precisely how the virus can spread. Can it spread before symptoms appear? The jury is still out. There are some reports that the virus can enter a body through simply rubbing one’s eyes if a person has picked up a trace of the virus on their hands.

In the midst of much fear, one of the things we can be thankful for are doctors who go into harms’ way to care for patients. This kind of care has not always, historically, been how society has reacted to sicknesses. In his book The Triumph of Christianity, Rodney Stark quotes the Christian bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, who describes how many people reacted when a smallpox epidemic swept through the Roman Empire in the third century:

At the first onset of the disease, people pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.

Dionysius goes on explain that the response of Christians to this epidemic was quite different:

Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.

It is this uniquely Christian spirit and legacy of caring for the sick, instead of leaving them to die, that endures across much of the world even today.

In 1527, the bubonic plague arrived in Wittenberg Germany, where a monk named Martin Luther was teaching. He chose to stay in Wittenberg and provide care for the sick, during which time he wrote a tract: Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague. Luther encouraged people not take unnecessary risks during epidemics, writing:

Examples in Holy Scripture abundantly prove that to flee from death is not wrong in itself. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city.

And yet, even as Luther encouraged people to take every available precaution to prevent the spread of a disease, he did not encourage them to do so at the expense of those who were suffering, even if helping the suffering endangered their own lives:

It is the devil who…takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.

Luther goes on to explain why, if we find ourselves in a position to help during a plague, we should defy the fears the devil plants in us:

If Christ shed His blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for His sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not my dear Christ, with His precepts, His kindness, and all His encouragement, be more important in my spirit than you, roguish devil, with your false terrors in my weak flesh? God forbid! Get away, devil. Here is Christ and here am I, His servant in this work. Let Christ prevail! Amen.

Amen, indeed.

And so today, while nations across the world continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, I give thanks for the medical professionals who are taking great risks to care for those who are dangerously ill. These professionals are serving their neighbors – both those neighbors who are sick and those neighbors who will not get sick, thanks to their work.

May their love and care do much good for our world.

February 3, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Fight to Defeat Zika

Brazil Zika Birth Defects

Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

When I searched for it, the first article that came up was from CNN and was titled, “What are the chances I’ll get it?”  The “it” is the Zika virus.  And right now, the virus constitutes a menacing epidemic.

On the one hand, societies have seen and battled viruses far more serious than Zika.  As CNN explains:

Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus will actually become ill, according to the [Centers for Disease Control]. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever are rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache,” the CDC says. For most people, the illness is mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. People don’t usually get sick enough to require a hospital visit, and the virus very rarely results in death.[1]

This is not good, but it is also not particularly devastating.  One needs only to remember the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to realize that Zika’s threat pales in comparison.  Indeed, the CDC also notes that once a person has contracted the virus, he is likely to be inoculated from future infections.

So why all the concern?

The concern lies primarily in Zika’s adverse effects during pregnancy.  The virus has been linked to birth defects that include microcephaly and Guillain-Barré.  Furthermore, the disease, it turns out, can be contracted not only from mosquitos, but also from sexual contact.  On February 2, Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed via the CDC that a woman contracted the Zika virus after having unprotected sex with a man who had just returned from a country where Zika is prevalent.

How the Zika virus will run its course and how far it will spread across not only other countries, but across this country, is still to be determined.  But this much is already certain:  our nation is facing a serious public health threat.  As Christians, there are a few things we should keep in mind.

First, we should pray for those who have contracted the virus and we should pray that the spread of the virus would be quickly stymied.  Even if the virus does not affect many of the infected adversely, any kind of sickness is never a part of God’s plan for His creation (cf. Matthew 4:23).  It is always, therefore, appropriate to pray against disease.  Because the virus is spread primarily by mosquitos, we should also pray that the governments of the nations who are being most affected by this virus would quickly develop effective methods of controlling these varmints.

Second, we should continue to declare that every life is precious – even those lives in the womb.  Because Zika is widely associated with serious birth defects, many in Latin American countries, where Zika is most prevalent, are beginning to argue for looser abortion restrictions because of the large number of women who are pregnant and who are getting pregnant while being infected with the virus.  The Washington Post reports:

Across Latin America, calls to loosen some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world in the face of the Zika virus outbreak are gaining momentum but encountering strong and entrenched opposition.

In El Salvador, where abortions are banned under any circumstance, the health minister has argued for a revision of the law because of the dangers the virus poses to fetal development.

In Colombia, an organized movement to lift restrictions on abortion has gained allies in the government but has run into determined opposition from religious authorities. The same is happening in Brazil – and some doctors say that as a consequence, illegal, back-alley abortions are on the rise.

Nearly everywhere in Latin America, including in those countries hit hardest by Zika, women who wish to terminate their pregnancies have few legal options. But as U.N. health officials have projected as many as 4 million infections in the Americas this year, activists are pressing lawmakers to act as swiftly as possible to ease rigid restrictions …

“If I were a woman, had just got pregnant and discovered that I had been infected by the Zika virus, I would not hesitate an instant to abort the gestation,” columnist Hélio Schwartsman wrote in the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Each mother should be able to follow her own instincts, he said.[2]

To use an epidemic to argue for American-style abortion legalization in countries that have traditionally looked at the practice with moral suspicion defies decency and smacks of the worst kind of political opportunism.  The effects that Zika can have on the unborn are devastating.  But a moral solution to this concern involves sexual self-control until this epidemic passes.  It does not and cannot involve the taking of innocent human life.  Indeed, Zika should remind us that sexual intimacy carries with it great power and responsibility.  This is true both for the couple enjoying sexual intimacy and for the progeny who can result from such intimacy.

Passing the Zika virus through sexual contact is a real possibility.  Thus, even for people who are married, sexual restraint may be in order.  Sexual restraint is also necessary in order to avoid dangerous pregnancies.  In a hyper-sexualized world, such self-control can appear to be impossible, regressive, and oppressive.  But at a time like this, what an act of love it would be for a person to deny himself the pleasures of sex in order to protect both the health of his spouse and the life of one who could come after him.  We must ask ourselves:  are we willing to love even when it involves self-denial?  Or have we become so selfish and base that to deny our desires is out of the question?

Finally, we should refuse to give into fear.  Every epidemic raises questions.  How will this epidemic be halted?  How many lives might it take?  How many birth defects might it result in?  How widespread may it become?  At this point, we do not have answers to these questions.  But a lack of answers does not need to lead to an abundance of fear.  This is not to say we should not be cautious.  But there is a difference between caution and fear.  Caution responds to a situation wisely.  Fear panics about a situation needlessly.

As Zika continues to spread, I lean on the words of the Psalmist:  “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).  The benefits of God are greater than the denouements of disease.  Zika will not have the last word.

_____________________

[1] Ben Tinker, “Zika virus: What are the chances I’ll get it? (And other Q&As),” cnn.com (2.9.2016).

[2] Dom Phillips, Nick Miroff and Julia Symmes Cobb, “Zika prompts urgent debate about abortion in Latin America,” The Washington Post (2.8.2016).

February 15, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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