Medicine

"Disease X" May cause a Worldwide Epidemic

The World Health Organisation [WHO] has put scientists and health workers around the globe on alert for a new and potentially deadly pathogen - Disease X. In fact, it's not actually "real" in the strict sense of the word - Disease X is a hypothetical virus.

John-Arne Rottingen, chief executive of the Research Council of Norway and adviser to the World Health Organization, told the Telegraph: 'History tells us that it is likely the next big outbreak will be something we have not seen before'.

Code-named "Disease X", this mystery pathogen hasn't even been discovered yet, but the looming threat of its nearly certain inevitability has secured it a place on the WHO's "most dangerous" list: a catalogue of potential future epidemics for which countermeasures are insufficient - or don't exist at all.

It was the first time that Disease X made the list.

The mysterious nature of the disease is meant to ensure flexible planning of diagnostics tests and vaccine strategies, so that that they may be applied to a wide range of possible scenarios.

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Disease X could spring up from a lot of different sources and infect us via innumerable vectors, Mr. Rottingen says, although zoonotic transmission (an animal virus evolving to infect humans) is the most likely. Ebola is also a zoonosis.

While we can be thankful Disease X probably doesn't exist yet, the likelihood of it appearing in the future is definitely something we should be aware of, in the hopes we can stay one step ahead of any future threats - especially as we continue to encounter and take over what remains of the natural environment. The New York Post suggests that the disease could be used as a weapon or a tool for countries and terrorist organisations that develop biological weapons.

This is not to scare people, WHO adds, but to motivate public health authorities around the world to prepare for all kinds of threats, not just those that are predictable.

This is important, because it is primary care systems - local doctors and nurses - that provide the best bet of detecting the outbreak of a new disease early and containing it before it spreads.

World Health Organization said existing drugs and vaccines need further improvement for several of the diseases considered but not included in the priority list. "They should be watched carefully and considered again at the next annual review".


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