The wounds of COVID-19 are still raw, and a new villain has emerged from the shadows – Disease X. This enigmatic term, coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) back in 2018, has once again thrust itself into the spotlight, with experts warning that it could potentially surpass the devastation caused by the infamous coronavirus. But what exactly is Disease X, and why is it being dubbed as 20 times deadlier than COVID-19? Let’s have a look.
What is Disease X?
Disease X isn’t the name of a specific virus or ailment; instead, it’s a conceptual term that represents the possibility of a catastrophic global epidemic triggered by an unknown pathogen. The WHO introduced this term as part of its “Blueprint list of priority diseases,” a roster that includes notorious infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, and Zika.
In essence, Disease X serves as a stark reminder that we live in a world where new, highly contagious, and potentially lethal diseases can emerge unexpectedly. It’s a placeholder for the ever-looming threat of a pandemic that could originate from a pathogen previously unknown to cause human disease.
Why is it sending a chilling wave in the world?
A UK health expert recently cautioned that Disease X has the potential to trigger another pandemic, potentially claiming millions of lives. The WHO itself has elevated Disease X to the status of “priority diseases” on its website, nestling it alongside infamous killers like COVID-19, Ebola, Lassa fever, MERS, Nipah, and Zika.
Adding to the chorus of concern, Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, renowned as the ‘batwoman’ for her work on bat-borne viruses, has issued her own warning. In a study evaluating the human spillover risk of various coronavirus species, Shi highlighted, “If a coronavirus caused diseases to emerge before, there is a high chance it will cause future outbreaks.” Out of the 40 species examined, six have already caused diseases in humans, while three more have evidence of causing disease in other animals.
The Potential Threat of Zoonosis
To understand how Disease X could spread, you must understand the transmission process of zoonotic diseases. Zoonoses are diseases that originate in animals, both wild and domestic, and then jump the species barrier to infect humans. This mode of transmission has been responsible for some of the most devastating epidemics in history, including Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and COVID-19.
Experts speculate that Disease X is likely to be zoonotic in nature, following the grim footsteps of its predecessors. It may emerge from animals and find its way into human populations, creating a potential health catastrophe on a global scale.
How WHO is preparing?
In response to the looming threat of Disease X and other emerging diseases, the WHO has devised the Research and Development (R&D) Blueprint. This initiative aims to work closely with scientists to develop customizable vaccine formulas. When an outbreak occurs, scientists can swiftly sequence the virus’s genetics causing the disease and integrate the correct sequence into the already-developed platform, expediting the creation of a new vaccine.
The R&D Blueprint was born out of the Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014, and it stands as a testament to the importance of preparedness and rapid response in the face of deadly diseases.
In a world where new pathogens and diseases lurk in the shadows, Disease X serves as a chilling reminder of our vulnerability. While we cannot predict when or where Disease X will strike, we can arm ourselves with knowledge, vigilance, and global collaboration to ensure that when it does emerge, we are prepared to face it head-on.