In 1976, Karl Johnson, a world-renowned expert on infectious diseases for the
Center for Disease Control (CDC), received an urgent phone call: "An entire
hospital has been wiped out and we still don't know what's behind the outbreak!"
Johnson boarded the next plane for Central Africa and there, near the fetid
banks of the Ebola River in Northwestern Zaire, a horrible fever of unknown
origin was raging. Several hundred deaths later, the disease vanished as
mysteriously as it had appeared. The researchers eventually determined that it
was a blood-borne virus, unprecedented, until then, in medical history.
The case of the Ebola virus is a warning that new armies of deadly
viruses--though most are relatively obscure and perhaps deceptively fragile--may
be waiting for the opportunity to infect unsuspecting human populations. (You
may recognize this scenario as the basis for the biological movie thriller
Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman.)
An outbreak of the Ebola virus would be unthinkable at a modern,
well-equipped hospital in the United States, but that hasn't stopped Karl
Johnson from pondering the alternative outcomes. There are frightening "what-if"
scenarios that haunt him like a recurrent nightmare more than a decade later.
"What would we have done if the virus was spread by cough droplets in the
air?" he asks. "If that were the case, there's no doubt in my mind that Ebola
fever could have qualified as the Andromeda strain, and we'd have all died." (As
we go to press, there is a report of another Ebola death in Africa as a result
of a monkey bite.)
The Present Threat
In a span of less than 15 years, the United States alone has been stricken by
a wave of new infections. Toxic shock syndrome, Legionnaires disease, AIDS, Lyme
disease and hanta virus have emerged from obscurity to become household names.
Infectious disease experts fear an escalation of new and possibly more deadly
epidemics in the future. Indeed, some candidates already loom on the distant
horizons, isolated in tiny geographical pockets. Why this sudden explosion of
A Losing Battle
During the 1950s and 60s the successful use of antibiotics and vaccines led
many people to assume that the war on infectious disease had been won.
Unfortunately, the war is still on due to changes in human behavior or in the
To be sure, changing morality associated with sex and drug use have
contributed to the spread of highly lethal diseases--AIDS being a leading
Also, with air travel now more affordable, infectious agents previously confined
to one corner of the world can jump across continents.
Among the more alarming infectious diseases laying siege to the current human
population are tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, sexually transmitted diseases and
disorders caused by antibiotic- resistant strains of bacteria or fungi.
Tuberculosis, as an example, continues to take a toll worldwide. According to
the World Health Organization, one-third of the world's population is infected
with TB, and after three decades of decline TB is again on the upswing.
Researchers are also discovering a new, darker side to summer's vegetable
bounty. Our nation's love affair with fresh, uncooked produce is now being
conclusively linked to outbreaks of diseases, and this time it isn't pesticides
In a series of recent discoveries, epidemiologists are now beginning to take
full measure of what has been an unrecognized problem: bacteria and viruses
hitchhiking on fresh vegetables. In 1988, iceberg lettuce gave 200 people in
Louisville hepatitis; in 1989-90, fresh melons sickened hundreds with
Microbiologists think these are the culprits in a quarter of all U.S. viral
stomach diseases--an astonishing conclusion for viruses so new, no one's figured
out how to grow them in the laboratory!
"Now that extremists are willing to use weapons of mass destruction, they
have crossed the threshold that experts have watched with dread for two
decades," says Bruce Nelan in the April 3, 1995 edition of Time.
Commenting on recent police raids of a cult in Japan, one newspaper reported
that the group had sufficient chemical materials to wipe out 4.3 million people.
The leader of the cult, Shoko Ashahara (who calls himself "Today's Christ"),
wrote in his book, Disaster Approaches the Land of the Rising Sun, that
Armageddon will arrive via a gas cloud from the United States (which is said to
be ruled by the Freemasons). Ashahara predicts that the end of the world will
occur by the year 2000 and would leave behind his enlightened followers and 10%
of everyone else. Obviously, Ashahara has not bothered to read the Biblical
The potential for biological/chemical terrorism is frightening. For a few
thousand dollars, a terrorist group can develop a biological weapon just as
devastating as a small nuclear bomb. For example, at the mere cost of
$10-20,000, one could obtain anthrax spores (bacteria associated mainly with
livestock and animal infections) commercially. A mere eight grams would inflict
heavy casual ties in a one-square-mile area. An airborne bacteria, anthrax would
cause death by pneumonia and suffocation.
Marvin Cetron, president of Forecasting International Ltd, a Virginia-based
think tank, co-authored an exhaustive study for the Pentagon last year. He
thinks a chemical or biological attack on the U.S. is increasingly likely
"perhaps within the next five years."
Biological Warfare Examples
Biological materials have always been a part of modern weaponry development.
Biological agents have been used in previous wartime environments, with the most
recent alleged use in the Gulf War. Although there are a number of international
agreements that decry the use of biological weapons, its research still
In 1972, the Soviet Union signed an international agreement to end biological
weapons production. How sincere the USSR was in signing that agreement was
demonstrated seven years later, when experiments in biological warfare caused an
outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlosk, killing 69.
Although the new Russia denies it, experts agree that there are stores of
biological weapons still hidden in the vast country. Many of these weapons can
be smuggled across borders in coat pockets, causing concern over the ease with
which terrorists may acquire such weaponry. Russia has passed regulations on the
control of these materials, but these are "quite loose" according to the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a chemical safety
The Soviet organization for chemical weapons production, Biopreparat,
employed over 25,000 people and continued to operate even after the safety
convention of 1972. In Koltsov, scientists experimented for years on how to
release hemorrhagic fever and Venezuelan encephalitis. Tests were also carried
out in Leningrad, with particular regard to the tularaemin virus.
There is also evidence that a terrifying new nerve agent has been developed
by renegade Soviet scientists. Code name "Newcomer," the agent is reportedly ten
times more powerful than its American equivalent, "VX." Again, Russia denies the
existence of "Newcomer," but when scientist Dr. Vil Marrzayanov discussed it in
a Russian interview, he was arrested immediately for "revealing official
The Biblical Perspective
Most of us are familiar with the plagues inflicted upon Egypt in Exodus 5.
After the Egyptians were stricken with a series of plagues, including
infestations of lice and flies, Pharaoh condemns himself and his land by
stating, "I and my people are wicked, and deserve what is brought against
us," and he allows the Jews their freedom.
Commentator Matthew Henry writes, "The plagues were standing monuments to the
greatness of God, the sinfulness of sin and standing monitors to the children of
men in all ages not to provoke the Lord to jealousy nor to strive with their
In Revelation 16, immediately after John's vision of Armageddon, seven "bowl"
judgments are poured onto the earth. "And I heard a great voice out of the
temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the bowl of the
wrath of God unto the earth." The bowls include "foul and painful sores
upon men" (Rev 16:2) and the sea becoming "like the blood of a dead
man" (Rev 16:3). They will cause man to "blaspheme the name of God, who
has power over these plagues; and repent not to give Him glory" (Rev 16:9).
Plagues can be expected as part of the scenario that the Bible predicts for
the "last days". They will also be exploited to justify a centralized world
government-- the "New World Order."
For those who know their Bible and have a personal relationship with our Lord
Jesus Christ, rather than creating an atmosphere of fear these tragic incidences
should draw us closer to the Creator Himself and our incredible destiny now on
the horizon. But it's time to do our homework. May we be prepared to minister to
those who have yet to discover the Redeemer of Mankind.