Is Disease X A Next Epidemic? Know The Impact & Precautions To Stay Safe

icon-blog By -Dr. Kanika Sharma
icon-blog By -September 30, 2023
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Presently, there is a growing focus within the medical community on a term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) known as "Disease X". This term represents our recognition of the possibility of a global epidemic arising from an unfamiliar pathogen. Although the precise symptoms of "Disease X" remain uncertain, the WHO categorizes it among other severe diseases. This conceptualization of an unknown threat underscores the vital importance of global preparedness.

Hence, it is essential to attain a complete and accurate comprehension of the risks linked to this infectious disease to avert the impending catastrophe. To stay updated on the latest information regarding emerging infectious diseases, it is advisable to refer to authoritative sources such as the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other relevant health agencies, as they provide authentic and real-time information as well as guidance in response to new disease threats.

What are the views of Experts on Disease X?

The proverb "Prevention is better than cure" is epitomized by the concept of "Disease X." In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced the concept of this infectious disease as an unidentified illness with the capacity to cause an epidemic. This infectious disease is currently included in the WHO's list of high-priority diseases for research and development, alongside diseases such as Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19. 

Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), emphasizes the importance of preparing for Disease X, even though it might seem like science fiction right now. 

Kate Bingham, who chaired the UK's Vaccine Taskforce, has suggested that Disease X could potentially lead to approximately 50 million fatalities, which is about 20 times more than the number of deaths caused by COVID-19. Bingham attributes the increase in outbreaks to the expanding pattern of greater numbers of individuals gathering in urban regions. She also underscores that the ongoing destruction of millions of acres of natural habitat annually is playing a role in this escalation.

She also made a big claim by saying, “In a sense, we got lucky with COVID-19, despite the fact that it caused 20 million or more deaths across the world. The point is that the vast majority of people infected with the virus managed to recover. Imagine Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola [67%]. Somewhere in the world, it's replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick”.

The emergence of unexpected infectious disease outbreaks, referred to as Disease X, has repeatedly shaken the confidence of the medical community and taken it by surprise. Some experts have suggested that this disease may resemble outbreaks like COVID-19 and Zika. But the prime concern is that they might represent milder versions of Disease X.

Criticism has been directed at the WHO for its handling of past pandemics, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Its limited funding and political influence often hinder its ability to respond effectively to transmissible diseases. Responsibility for the Ebola outbreak was found to be shared between the WHO, governments, and delayed funding.

There is concern that once the COVID-19 pandemic fades from the forefront, healthcare systems and funding for epidemic preparedness may remain unchanged, potentially leaving the world vulnerable to infectious epidemics again. Additionally, the possibility of an engineered pandemic pathogen, whether through laboratory accidents or bioterrorism, is a global catastrophic risk that cannot be ignored.

What Causes Disease X?

Disease X is expected to be caused by a pathogen referred to as "pathogen X," likely a zoonotic agent, most likely an RNA virus. As per experts, it will be originating in an area with a high mix of risk factors that facilitate sustained transmission.

What Are The Symptoms Of Disease X?

The distinct signs and symptoms of Disease X have not been pinpointed yet because this ailment is more of a theoretical concept than a definite medical diagnosis.

What Measures Can Be Taken To Stop Disease X Spread?

Seeing the history of pandemics, including COVID-19, it is imperative to prepare for future outbreaks as soon as possible. The following early approaches and measures may help to mitigate the impact of disaster:

  1. Bridging institutional gaps
  2. Identifying priority risk areas and pathogens
  3. Spreading information regarding risk factors for emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases
  4. Urgent funding for surveillance, research, and treatment of potential pandemic agents
  5. Establishing international guidelines to control bioterrorism
  6. Seeking timely advice from academics without political interference
  7. Implementing immediate travel restrictions and airport screening to contain pathogen X
  8. Promoting collaborative efforts by scientists, clinicians, and infectious disease experts to investigate, control, and eliminate the disease
  9. Widespread testing and aggressive contact tracing
  10. Timely investments to accelerate the development and availability of medical countermeasures like diagnostics and vaccines
  11. Active surveillance of virus laboratories to prevent potential leaks of new viruses

Is Any Vaccine for Disease X Mitigation Available?

At present, there is no authorized vaccine available to mitigate 'Disease X.' Emphasizing the significance of scientists creating a range of prototype vaccines for each potentially dangerous virus family, Bingham pointed out that having an early lead on vaccines for the lethal virus might assist in targeting its unique characteristics.

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