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An infected planet: What can save us now? - (4/14/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Mrs. Murphy came into the pharmacy for a few items. “Sorry, I do not have any disinfectant or paper towels today," the pharmacist said to her. "I'll be getting some in here next week." “Don’t worry about me,” said Mrs. Murphy. “I have the Lord’s blood on me to protect me from this virus.” Excuse me?” replied the pharmacist. “Our pastor said that God will protect us. God is greater than COVID-19. I’m going over for a church service this evening. You should join us.”

During this coronavirus pandemic, many noted public health authorities have strongly emphasized that, until researchers find a drug or a vaccine, everyone should practice social distancing. That means no movie theaters, restaurants, or other social gatherings. This includes worship services. To defy the warnings of scientists, immunologists, and health care professionals is to taunt the virus and to test God. However, man cannot test God. He gave us the wisdom to learn how to stay safe. What does one do when religious leaders give the green light to their flocks to step into danger? The rational person would defer to the people of science, not to the people wanting your money. 

Every pandemic is fraught with false information. According to an April 2020 Pew Research poll, 30% of Americans erroneously believe the Chinese government genetically engineered COVID-19 and then hid the evidence. This has resulted in an uptick in Asian bashing in the US. People fear what they cannot understand. They seek easy explanations that cannot be verified but, through the lightning speed of the internet, can be passed around quicker than any virus.   

What would a pandemic be without the hordes of snake oil salesmen who promise us prevention or a cure from the invading agent? Some remedies are innocuous, such as drinking herbal teas. Some are downright preposterous such as ingesting bleach. Even people in the highest tiers of government have jumped on the bandwagon to tout hydroxychloroquine, a drug vital for lupus and to prevent malaria, neither of which are viral-borne diseases. Any proof that the drug works is anecdotal at best. This drug has some significant side effects that have to be considered before the government starts to throw tablets from the back of a truck to the gullible masses below. What would the dose be to stop the virus? Would it be higher or lower than needed for lupus? How long would one have to take it? One day? The rest of your life? We do not know until the data come in. 

One thing we know: the planet is infected. Now, what will get us to the other side? No easy exit exists in this case. The virus – a ball of genetic material encased in fat and festooned by protein spikes – is lifeless until it hijacks a host cell and enslaves it. Suddenly, billions of its offspring have set in motion the immune system, which may or may not be able to combat it. Right now, the virus – which has entrenched itself in 210 countries and territories – is winning. 

So, is the cure to delight in the blood of Jesus, as Mrs. Murphy suggests? To show the virus who is boss? Remember that religion is politics. As politics attempts to attract every person to its viewpoint, religion attempts to invite every soul to its teachings. Just as there are good and bad actors in politics, the same holds true for religious leaders who ask you to endanger your life. Bottom line: Do what makes sense. Respect science and data. Cover your mouth and wash your hands. And in time, God’s most intelligent creatures will develop a drug and a vaccine, and we can give a prayer of thanks to our Creator. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com.


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