According to the Center for Disease Control, this year's flu season is the worst this country has experienced in years. The CDC reports that flu is widespread in at least 13 states, and only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. have reported no cases (USATODAY.com - Flu Shot Shortage is Feared, Dec., 17, 2003). Hospitals in Arizona and North Carolina report patients swamping pediatric emergency rooms. Health departments are scrambling to get vaccines. Paper masks are being handed out in waiting rooms. Doctors in places such as the Vanderbilt Medical Center are discouraging most flu patients from visiting the emergency room because of increased wait times, the danger of increased spreading of the illness and because, according to Vanderbilt spokesman John Howser, "There's no treatment that will make flu go away." (CNN.com - Flu Sufferers Jam Emergency Rooms, Dec. 17, 2003). January 2004
An Ounce of God-Ordained Prevention is Worth a Ton of Worldly Cure
Because there is no curative treatment for the flu, methods to prevent its spread are truly critical. According to the CDC, the best ways to prevent the flu are such measures as vaccinations, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing your hands, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth (CDC.gov - Preventing the Flu, Dec. 18, 2003). Thus, after thousands of years of fighting the common cold and flu, man's best preventative strategies are still to bolster the immune system that God so wisely designed and to put in practice preventative measures that He so thoughtfully ordained.
Our Immune System
The immune system is the defense mechanism in each person that helps our bodies fight disease. When you get an infection, your body reacts by producing substances called antibodies. These antibodies fight the invading antigen (virus or bacteria) and help you get over the illness. The antibodies usually stay in your system, even after the disease has gone, and protect you from getting the same disease again. This is called immunity. Vaccines are made from disease causing viruses (and bacteria) that are killed or weakened. Vaccines make the body think it is being invaded by a specific organism, and the body reacts by producing antibodies. Then, if a person is exposed to the organism in the future, he or she is protected. In this way, vaccines or "immunizations" strengthen our natural God-given immune defenses against a specific infection.
An interesting question one could ask is whether this immune system was necessary prior to the Fall? On the one hand, because God is omniscient and foreknew the Fall, He certainly would have known that the immune system would be needed. On the other hand, the immune system does not only protect against disease, it also helps the body to distinguish between self and non-self. For instance, it helps to keep the normal bacteria in our colon from spreading into the bloodstream where it would be harmful. Since such helpful bacteria would likely have existed before the Fall, it is likely that our immune system was present to shepherd them in this way (www.answersingenesis.org, Vaccines and Genesis, Nov. 4, 2002).
As was mentioned earlier, CDC advocates that the best ways to prevent the flu outside of vaccinations and medications are to avoid close contact with people who are sick, wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. CDC also advises the sick to stay home and cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. This may seem obvious to us today. However, just 128 years ago, before Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch proved that disease is passed from one individual to another through germs, physicians believed that disease-producing organisms arose spontaneously from within a patient's body. Yet, God through the Bible had a lot to say about sanitation and hygiene 3,500 years before Pasteur and Koch were born.
The instructions recorded by Moses in Leviticus, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are strikingly similar to modern disease-prevention techniques. They pertain to:
- childbirth [Leviticus 12:2,3]
- sexual relationships [Leviticus 18,20:10-16; Exodus 20:14]
- hand-washing [Numbers 19:11-13,19; Leviticus 11:24-28,40]
- wound and discharge care [see also Leviticus 15:2-11, 17:11]
- quarantining [Leviticus 13:1-14:57; Numbers 5:2-4; Deuteronomy 23:10]
- burial precautions [Numbers 19:11,14-16,19,22; Leviticus 11:24-28,40]
- waste disposal [Deuteronomy 23:12-14; Leviticus 11:33, 13:47-58, 15:12]
These Mosaic rules regarding hygiene were thousands of years ahead of their time. For example, it wasn't until a little more than 100 years ago that precautions such as "no touch" surgical and dressing techniques were instituted in modern medical facilities to prevent disease from spreading (Creation 26(1), December 2003 - The First Book of Public Hygiene). According to Dr. Rex Russell in his 1996 publication titled "What the Bible says about health living,"
"Results have always been impressive when biblical standards for health and hygiene are followed. Roman Empire, Roman cities and camps planned their sewage and cisterns in the center of their compounds...leaving themselves vulnerable to seeping epidemics and plagues. In contrast, both Jewish and Muslim communities in many eras have been spared such tragedies...Did jealousy regarding this apparent 'favoritism,' as well as rapid spread of the faith around the world and the early Christian refusal to pay homage to the gods of Rome, play together to make Rome want to persecute Christians?"
According to Dr. Russell, a similar reaction was seen in the opponents of the Jews during the "black plague" that killed millions during the middle ages. Many European Jews likely suffered great persecution because others noticed they were spared the disease.
In accordance with Leviticus 13:1-14:57, if there was any doubt as to the certainty of a diagnosis, the person was to be isolated for observation (quarantined). Once a person was diagnosed with a contagious condition, he was to stay outside of the camp "all the days wherein the plague shall be in him." Moreover, he was required to wear a covering over his mouth, and to warn others by shouting "Unclean, unclean! (Numbers 5:2-4; Leviticus 13:45-46).
Thousands of years later, in response to the current flu epidemic, modern day doctors are using techniques similar to those prescribed by God through Moses. Those sick with the flu are being asked to quarantine themselves and to stay away from emergency rooms for fear of further infections. Sick individuals who do show up at emergency rooms are given paper masks for the protection of others. Hospital professionals practice careful hand-washing and waste disposal methods. Moses may not have understood the basis for these modern medicine practices, but God certainly did. And God offered this sound advice to the people of Israel in 1500 BC that we would do well to continue to heed today:
"If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you." (Exodus 15:26)