Invisible Enemies

Viruses and other microbes have changed human history—and continue to disrupt our lives.

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.

 It is sometimes as dangerous to be run into by a microbe as by a trolley car. —James Walsh


WE ARE BORN FRESH, clean, and alone. However, this condition lasts only until our first breath, when the human body starts to become a cooperative venture with other
creatures. These creatures, generally single-celled bacteria, are called microbes and are so small that they are measured in millionths of a meter—visible only via highpowered microscopes.

They arrive to us in the air we breathe, water we drink, things we touch, and food we eat. Some live outside of the body—on our skin, hair, mouth, eyes, and ears—but most live in our intestinal tract. These helpful microbes are called symbionts. Our very survival is dependent on the mutually beneficial relationship we were designed to experience with them. They keep our bodily functions in balance, while we give them protection and nourishment. On the outside these symbionts help keep us groomed. Inside the body they aid in food digestion, protect us from disease, and even produce vitamins.

There are other varieties of microbes that are not symbionts. Some are selfsufficient, free-living, relatively harmless creatures that can be found in dirt, oceans, lakes, streams, forest floors, kitchen countertops, toilets, etc. They live, multiply, and die on their own.

Parasites characterize a much larger class of microbes that are neither symbiotic nor free-living. They live in us too, taking nourishment and energy from us without giving anything beneficial back. This group includes viruses, vanishingly small creatures that invade our body cells. They use fuel and house themselves within the cells, altering the cell DNA in order to replicate and invade the entire body, usually causing sickness. The body’s defense system is designed to fight back vigorously and, in most cases, effectively destroys and eliminates these invaders. However, the rate of speed by which the sickness spreads throughout the body, and/or the already compromised health status of the individual, can hinder or seriously compromise the body’s ability to effectively win the battle against the invaders.

In the absence of a protective vaccine or immunity from previous exposure, these infectious pathogens can spread quickly from one stricken individual through a community of unprotected people living closely together. Conditions being just right, an infection can race through a population, thus becoming an epidemic. An endemic occurs if the
disease becomes a permanent feature of a region. As in the situation of COVID-19, a pandemic occurs when a disease spreads from country to country, thus becoming a global crisis.

Infectious diseases along with natural disasters are the top culprits in causing death, sorrow, and suffering globally. Human responses can include fear, panic, greed, humiliation, anger, blame, hate, and violence. But at the same time, reason, compassion, and amazing scientific effort balance the record. Epidemic, endemic, and pandemic diseases have been known to force enormous and catastrophic changes in societies and governments, often altering the course of human history. Some of these deadly big players of the past include:

1. The Bubonic Plague (Black Death), 1346—To this day it is recorded as one of history’s most gruesome diseases. It was caused by Oriental rat fleas carried by ships  across the Mediterranean to Europe. Spreading rapidly from east to west, it killed up to 200 million people, cutting Europe’s population by 30 to 50 percent and forever
changing a frozen society operating on vast inequality and limited social mobility. Although it is still a potential threat, eradicating infected rodents and having effective
antibiotics has kept this disease at bay.

2. Smallpox, before Christ—With its exact origin unknown, this devastating disease dates back to the Egyptian empire around the third century B.C. Over the ensuing centuries it slowly spread globally by means of exploration, war, slave trade, expanding trade routes, and colonization. Smallpox significantly affected the European continent in the 10th to the 14th centuries, initially introduced by returning European warriors following an invasion of the Middle East. An epidemic in Paris in 1438 killed 50,000, mostly children. At the time Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, smallpox was endemic to Europe. Disease pathogens Europeans brought with them to the New World spread rapidly among the Native Americans, who had no immunity to hepatitis, influenza, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, measles, mumps, and smallpox—the most deadly to
that group of people being smallpox. Records suggest that over two generations, 10 to 100 million natives died as a result. This highly infectious and deadly disease was
eventually eradicated thanks to effective vaccination efforts initiated originally by Edward Jenner in 1796.

3. The Spanish Flu, 1918—This 20th-century pandemic, caused by a particularly deadly pathogen, infected 500 million people worldwide. Since Spain was hit particularly hard, the disease has historically been known as the Spanish flu, though it originated elsewhere. Records suggest that the disease influenced the outcome of World War I by killing up to 40 percent of servicemen and servicewomen and destroying the medical treatment structure. Flu vaccines began to be introduced in the 1940s and are now widely available, offering a measure of protection against generalized seasonal flu outbreaks.

4. HIV/AIDS, 1980—It is believed that the virus had its origin in Africa early in the 20th century by crossing over from primates to humans. It didn’t gain attention until the early 1980s, when several gay men demonstrated unusual cases of pneumonia and cancer. HIV is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is responsible for destroying the body’s protective immune system. It is caused by exposure to and the exchange of infected body fluids. There is no cure or vaccine, and treatment is variable and expensive. Since 1981, upwards of 20 million people have died of the disease. An aura of social stigmatization often surrounds those infected.

Historical records starting as early as 400 B.C. indicate that humanity has suffered through approximately 200 severe epidemic and pandemic disease outbreaks. Of course, this list does not include the wide variety of diseases and illnesses that plague the daily lives of humanity on a more localized and smaller scale, such as colds, seasonal flu, infections, cancers, and lifestyle-related health issues. With growing populations, cities becoming larger and denser, and easy access to intercontinental travel, the potential for the effective spread of disease pathogens across land boundaries has alarmingly increased as well. Fortunately, not every outbreak becomes a pandemic, as has the current novel coronavirus.

The World Health Organization designated this virus as COVID-19, the name being an acronym that stands for coronavirus disease of 2019. Humans and animals alike can experience coronaviruses. In animals, symptoms include respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver, and neurologic diseases. In humans, coronaviruses can cause symptoms of the common cold or several varieties of more severe lung infections.

“Novel” indicates that it is a new coronavirus that has not been previously associated with humans. It also is identified as a zoonotic disease—one that begins in animals and is transmitted from animals to people.

1. It is a new disease. There is no approved vaccine yet. Since it is a virus, antibiotics are ineffective.
2. It affects primarily the lungs.
3. Symptoms can show up from two to 14 days after exposure.
4. Exposure includes being close enough to an infected person to breathe in aerosol droplets from their coughing or sneezing. Touching a contaminated surface and then 
touching your eyes, mouth, or nose is another way of becoming exposed.
5. Infection can be spread by someone who shows no symptoms but has the virus.
6. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, runny nose, body aches, headache, fatigue, and/or diarrhea. Severe symptoms include difficulty breathing, confusion, and blue lips—
indicating medical intervention is needed.
7. Anyone at any age can become seriously ill; however, most vulnerable individuals include those over 60 and those with chronic health problems or weakened immune conditions.
8. If you have symptoms, stay home and keep separate from family members and pets. Cover your cough and sneezes. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and
surfaces. Call your doctor for a possible evaluation, including testing. For severe symptoms as listed above, proceed to a local hospital emergency department. It’s best to call first in the event another area is designated as a special entry  point for possible coronavirus clients.

9. Effective personal defense habits include living a healthy lifestyle, including sufficient sleep; eating a nutritious diet; using ample water for cleansing and drinking; getting regular exercise, sunshine, and fresh air; washing hands frequently; and following instructions such as staying home, observing social distancing, and wearing a mask in public areas.
10. Scientists are currently testing a number of drugs and drug combinations, striving to find an effective vaccine and treatment for COVID-19. Beware of scam treatment
11. Even though it can be frightening to frequently hear of the thousands of people worldwide who have died of this new disease, be aware that many, many thousands had the sickness and have recovered. Nevertheless, diligently and responsibly follow safety precaution protocols to ensure the best outcome for you and those around you.

COVID-19 is another tragic event for our world cleverly crafted and instigated by the unseen enemy of souls. Before the outbreak is over, it will have affected all people
everywhere to one extent or another. But we need not despair. Our faith is anchored in a loving, promise-keeping God who can bring tremendous good out of tremendous bad. He reminds us in our times of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear to take courage and keep faith strong. Sing, pray, study, be thankful, and generously share hope and love. Above all, keep your eyes looking upward. He’s coming soon. Hallelujah!

Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History, by Bryn Barnard

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.