Swine flu has rapidly spread around the world after emerging in Mexico last year. Experts anticipate that millions more will yet be infected, even though its first wave is now waning in certain countries.
The flu is thought to have originated in pigs. It is a respiratory disease that jumps from person to person by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms are similar to standard, seasonal influenzas.
Already some readers will have contracted the illness or know family members and friends who have had it. For most, the experience is no worse than normal flu; some even get the illness without knowing they have had it. However, a few experience severe symptoms; and a very few may die, especially if they already have chronic health problems.
Since June, the outbreak has been officially designated a worldwide pandemic. As we approach winter, doctors expect that infections will rise in line with normal flu patterns.
Arrangements to cope with all this have been put in place, including a national telephone helpline, and an increased availability of such antiviral drugs as Tamiflu. New vaccines are expected very soon.
In spite of these measures, we feel profoundly vulnerable before the silent progress of such a disease, not least because its causative agent – a virus – is capable of mutating into a more harmful variety at any time. Diseases can sometimes be more devastating than earthquakes or hurricanes.
Other flu epidemics in the last hundred years have seriously affected communities. In 1918, Spanish flu is thought to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide; and in 1957 more than a million died of Asian flu.
And it is perhaps the collective memory of this, together with a sense of powerlessness, that has spawned the anxiety already witnessed in the UK. On the first day of the telephone and web-based helpline services, designed to relieve pressures on the NHS and GPs, over 5500 people received anti-viral drugs.
In America, officials estimate about half the US population should be vaccinated against the virus, with pregnant women and health workers having top priority. Elsewhere, vaccination campaigns are underway throughout the world.
In Egypt, the government used the virus as a pretext to cull thousands of pigs belonging to non-Muslim breeders, while in Argentina new animal health measures have been announced after farm workers passed the virus on to pigs!
Christians should remember that God is in control of every eventuality; the well-being of his people is his principal concern. Those without the Saviour feel deep confusion and consternation in the face of death and suffering. At such times, the quiet, confident trust of a believer witnesses to those who have no hope.
Christ lifted up
Christians can be ready to help others in need. Those unable to discern spiritual truth still know and appreciate concern and Christian love when they see it.
Every incident of suffering or hardship invariably provokes some people to ask the question, ‘Why did God allow this?’ We will not be able to explain every individual loss, but we can gently explain that in a fallen world sin is the reason for suffering; and sin must be dealt with, in this world through faith in Christ, or in the next.
Some people are already suggesting that swine flu is a judgement from God. Be that as it may, judgement for national sin is certainly deserved and coming soon. We cannot supply the world with a quick fix for suffering, but we can offer hope by preaching Jesus Christ as the only Saviour for a sin-sick world.
In the days of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, a brazen serpent raised upon a pole in the midst of a suffering people was the means by which people were saved. Those who looked at the serpent were instantly healed. The Lord Jesus Christ, lifted up upon the cross at Calvary, is the life-giving healer of the souls of all who come to him in repentance and faith.