Thousands were infected. Hundreds died. Many more will be infected. What is the cause? Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome—or SARS. Many fear that its global impact may soon rival that of AIDS! How can you be safe? What can be done to stop it?
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SARS—Is the worst over? Or is the panic caused by this disease only the beginning? What is the cause of this virus? How does it spread? What are its effects? Is SARS a seasonal disease—and will it emerge every year? Who is safe? How can you be protected?
As killer diseases are on the march, these questions are paramount on the minds of health specialists, the medical community, and even the average citizen. So far, scientists and doctors are unable to answer these basic questions about this mysterious new disease.
But this lack of information is not due to lack of effort. Top biotech companies and virologists from the United States, Canada, Germany, and other nations, are together trying to understand the complexity of what causes SARS.
In a recent public forum on SARS, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated, “This is the new normal. We live in a world of emerging infectious diseases and emerging threats. And who can really say what the next challenge around the corner might be?”
As society enters what some are terming “the epidemic age,” most hold similar fears of what the future will bring. The common understanding in the medical world is that SARS—the first new disease of the century—is only an initiation of this age of epidemics.
This article is not intended to increase fears of this new disease. In fact, studies show that SARS is retreating, and there are fewer infections and deaths than in recent months. However, as shown by the CDC’s health warnings, it is vital to inform the public by presenting clear-cut facts. One can then better understand how and why this disease is spreading, what the outcome of these outbreaks will be—and why future epidemics will follow in its wake.
Most were surprised at the speed at which SARS spread to so many. The following is an example of how this virus is believed to have rapidly spread:
When Stephen woke up with a headache, sore throat, slight fever and a dry cough, he did not make much of it. His day seemed no different from any other—except that he felt like he was coming down with the flu. As he rode the crowded subway on his way to work, he began sweating, feeling chills and slight abdominal pains. Within a few days, his fever boiled and his dry cough intensified. A few days later, Stephen was dead.
While Stephen thought he had the flu, because of his flu-like symptoms, he had actually been infected with SARS. Many hundreds like Stephen have suffered similarly painful deaths, caused by this mysterious disease.
Although scientists are scrambling to pinpoint the cause of this modern disease, the exact means of transmission is still unknown. However, scientists have discovered a common thread among many SARS cases—they were carrying a previously unrecognized coronavirus.
What is a coronavirus?
It is a family of viruses known to cause the common cold, and is commonly found in livestock, ducks and other domestic animals. The genetic code of the virus is based on single-stranded RNA molecules. Unlike DNA’s built-in “proofreading” mechanism (which corrects errors in the replication process), when this virus-molecule reproduces itself, errors are also generated—and new strains appear!
Dr. Gerberding further explains the nature of this virus: “…this is a single-stranded RNA virus, and that kind of virus, as it reproduces itself, doesn’t have the zipper on the other side to match up perfectly, so it makes mistakes…so it is not surprising that we see new strains emerge over time. We haven’t documented that yet with this virus, and I think the fact that the sequenced data from the isolate characterized in Canada and the U.S. are so close, suggests that large mutations are not occurring. But it’s biologically plausible, and we’ll be keeping our eye on these strains as we go forward.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the coronavirus attached to the common cold mutated into a new strain, becoming deadlier to humans, thus creating the SARS virus. However, in a disappointing turn of events, Canadian microbiologists found that 40% of their SARS patients were not carrying the coronavirus!
This development raised two questions: (1) Is SARS even associated with this family of viruses? Or, (2) has the coronavirus again mutated, now able to elude detection?
Currently, the primary means of spreading is close person-to-person contact, such as touching the skin or direct contact with respiratory secretions (inhaling or touching residue from a sneeze or cough) from an infected person. Since SARS can be transported airborne, practically every person in close proximity of an infected person (in the above example, almost every person on the subway) can become infected.
The SARS virus can also survive up to 24 hours outside a host, so contaminated items, such as elevator buttons, hospital beds, clothing, face masks, etc., can continue infecting people without an infected person in the vicinity.
The main reason for SARS’ high infection rate is that, since its symptoms are so similar to the flu, an individual infected with the disease is usually unaware that this has occurred, and continues in regular activities, instead of immediately seeking quarantine.
However, one of the greatest fears of the disease is still in question. Officials are uncertain whether someone carrying the disease, but not showing symptoms, can infect others. This hypothesis stems from one such case, in which a man infected with SARS, but not yet showing symptoms, visited someone at the hospital, and all the patients in the same room later came down with SARS. Before this case, health authorities had assumed that only symptomatic patients spread the disease.
In China, where the disease originated, SARS victims received lax medical treatment—instead of immediate quarantine. As far back as November 2002, SARS cases in the Guandong province of China were shuffled away, and were unreported to WHO. As SARS thrived in China, the Chinese Ministry of Health’s secrecy no doubt increased panic and spiked the number of fatalities, while inhibiting the world community’s efforts to stop it.
For this reason, the CDC immediately issued warnings about SARS to the American public, which helped limit domestic cases (71 cases, 0 deaths), in ratio to the world (8,364 cases, 789 deaths)—and these numbers are changing almost daily! Health specialists realized that in order to prevent mass spread and hysteria, you must have an informed population, who know to seek quarantine if they begin showing symptoms. This also helped prevent the disease from promulgating overpopulated cities—as occurred in China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Another aspect of the SARS spread is that most infections occurred in cities, where overpopulation is common. Cramped, overcrowded areas where more people live in spaces not suitable to house them (commonly sharing ventilation and sanitation systems), are fertile breeding grounds for disease. SARS is simply the most recent disease to take advantage of this, as evidenced by a massive SARS outbreak in a Hong Kong apartment building (transmitted through sewage pipes).
Once again, the lesson of infectious disease is obvious: It only takes one weak link to begin an outbreak. It is just a matter of when and where it will begin.
Just a cursory glance at the world reveals another terrifying picture: Most of the world’s population live in filth and squalor, often in densely populated areas, with primitive sanitation systems—if at all!
This has forced the baffled medical world to seek a way to advance the battle against disease, while helplessly waiting for the next generation of deadlier and genetically mutating diseases to strike.
As most disease victims and medical professionals are learning, there is no “cure-all”!
When a mysterious disease appeared in the Guandong province of China in November 2002, the world was completely unaware of what would happen in the months to follow. Health officials now wish that the Chinese Ministry of Health had reported the first outbreak to WHO.
Instead, a cover-up ensued, helping the disease to continue spreading. Had this new disease been reported, the how, what, when, where and why of SARS would have been known. The disease was finally reported on February 26, 2003—approximately three months after the first case—and, a few days later, WHO issued the first SARS warning.
Since that warning, the numbers of SARS infections increased, revealing a tangled web of spread. For example, in Toronto, almost every case of SARS can be traced to a twenty-six year old woman who died on March 5, 2003.
She had traveled to Hong Kong in February, and upon return, unwittingly caused a chain reaction: She passed it to her son, who passed it to at least two individuals sharing his hospital room, who then passed it to family and friends.
The result? Toronto witnessed the infecting of 238 people, with 32 deaths, and WHO issued a travel warning to Toronto visitors.
In early June 2003, as 15 new cases appeared, health authorities in Toronto scrambled at the possibility of a SARS resurgence. One victim was a man from Raleigh, North Carolina, who was infected while visiting the Canadian city. However, the disease was not detected until he returned home. He and his family were immediately quarantined for ten days.
Following this cluster of outbreaks, fears of WHO issuing Toronto a new warning were high. This warning had severely affected the city, estimated to have cost $30 million a day. However, at a recent conference, WHO did not re-issue Toronto a warning.
But with 33 reported deaths so far, and as the first spot to be hit by SARS in the Western World, Toronto will long be associated with the virus.
Before its partial containment, the medical community was bracing itself for a catastrophe. While SARS-related deaths (789 so far) do not even parallel the number of AIDS deaths (3 million in 2002), the estimated 14-15% death rate for SARS cases is no laughing matter. In comparison to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19, which had a death rate of less than 3%—yet killed over 20 million people in just 18 months—if not contained, SARS could kill many more, in far less time.
Meanwhile, epidemiologists are tracking SARS as it appears in new locations, and reappears in areas where infections had been contained. If these partial containments fail, and SARS outbreaks continue, businesses and schools—even entire cities—will again have to shut down!
In an interview with BBC News Online, Professor John Oxford, a virology expert, stated, “There’s not much you can do to avoid this, unless you go and live as a hermit.”
The CDC’s official SARS “czar,” Hitoshi Oshitani, stated, “In terms of cases and deaths, SARS does not even rank among the top 10 communicable diseases in Asia…In terms of economic impact, however, SARS is the biggest disaster in 30 years.”
Aside from Toronto’s estimated loss of $30 million a day, WHO reports that the global “bill” left in the wake of recent SARS outbreaks has already exceeded $30 billion! But with the lifting of health warnings for Toronto, the city’s ailing tourism industry is hoping to rebound. Asia’s economy, however, will need much more time to recover from SARS.
On the health front, the almost draconian measures employed by the Chinese government (after a shake-up in the governing ranks) seem to be curbing SARS. Some of these precautionary steps include 14-day isolation and medical screening of people wanting to travel into the city, the quarantining of 29,000 people within two months (April and May 2003), as well as punishing healthcare workers attempting to cover up information about the SARS spread.
Over all, while unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the disease, the medical world is confident in the war to contain SARS. But many health experts understand that this could change from one day to the next.
In reference to SARS’ unpredictable nature, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), stated, “It’s too soon to count our chickens…This is an evolving epidemic, and we need to take it seriously.”
The SARS virus may seem contained. However, as the century’s first new strain of mutating viruses, the global effects of this disease are lasting.
As this world enters what has been termed “the epidemic age,” people wearing protective masks and fears of being infected while passing a hospital or a crowd—or riding in airplanes or touching a contaminated item—are seemingly new, common realities for this age!
As explained, when compared to other diseases such as Tuberculosis and Malaria, the numbers infected by SARS are much lower.
However, so many fear SARS because it is a relatively mysterious disease. Recall Dr. Gerberding’s statement: “This is the new normal. We live in a world of emerging infectious diseases and emerging threats. And who can really say what the next challenge around the corner might be?”
The CDC director’s statement is truer than most realize. While the world relies on the medical community to discover an instant cure, this virus continues to puzzle scientists—leaving them unable to stop SARS, let alone permanently contain it.
But, unrealized by most, modern plagues were announced millennia ago by the world’s foremost newscaster—Jesus Christ.
In Leviticus 26, Christ—the God of the Old Testament—states, “And if you shall despise My statutes…so that you will not do all My commandments…I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague [fever], that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart…and you shall be slain before your enemies…” (vs. 15-17).
In Deuteronomy 28, God further warns today’s generation, “If you will not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book…Then the Lord will make your plagues wonderful [amazing], and the plagues of your seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance…Also every sickness, and every plague…them will the Lord bring upon you, until you be destroyed” (vs. 58-59, 61).
Can SARS actually be a biblical pestilence? While skeptics may dismiss this question as one asked by “doomsday watchers” or “end-of-the-world fanatics,” a quick look at prophecy—events written in advance—reveals something far different than most expect.
Do not dismiss the words of your Bible!
The apostle Paul wrote, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (II Tim. 3:1). Just a quick glance at world news evidences that we are truly living in perilous times! It is no coincidence that killer diseases, both old and new, are striking a society ignorant of God’s Law (Jer. 6:19). This was prophesied to occur! Recent outbreaks of Monkey Pox (which migrated to the U.S. through an African rodent), and West Nile virus testify to this—and are fulfillments of these prophecies.
With the threats of SARS, West Nile, anthrax, smallpox, monkey pox, tuberculosis, and the onslaught of mutating bacteria, not to mention bioterrorism threats, can one be safe from these pestilences? How can someone—anyone—be protected from this faceless enemy?
In Matthew 24:21-22, Christ states, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world…And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved…” The proliferation of deadly pestilences is another telltale sign of this imminent time of trouble.
These modern plagues directly result from humanity living against the way God intended!
But there is a way of escape! God does not foretell these horrific events without providing an advance announcement of the wonderful world to come! While the immediate road ahead seems dark, there is light at the end of the tunnel!
God is bringing a utopian society, in which He will wipe away all fear, disease and sickness. While millions of scientists and doctors and the most educated of minds are helpless to bring this to pass, God has the power to remove all diseases (Ex. 15:26; Deut. 7:15; Psa. 91:5-10)—and will!
To learn more about this, read our free book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View!