As the world still recovers from the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of another pandemic, ominously named ‘Disease X’, looms on the horizon. Medical experts in the UK have issued a chilling warning, drawing parallels between Disease X and the devastating Spanish Flu that killed millions from 1918 to 1920. Their concerns are driven by the belief that Disease X could prove deadlier than the coronavirus and can likely cause up to 50 million deaths.
For context, the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in 2020, has already claimed the lives of over 6.9 million people worldwide. So, in case you’re worried about Disease X, or just want some more information about it, here’s everything you need to know.
Understanding Disease X
Disease X, a term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO), represents the unsettling notion that a severe international epidemic could be sparked by an unknown pathogen. It is suspected to be linked to zoonotic diseases, often emerging from environments that favour sustained transmission. These pathogens, referred to as ‘X’, pose a persistent and evolving threat, necessitating vigilant surveillance and monitoring efforts.
Public health experts worry that Disease X could follow in the footsteps of previous zoonotic diseases like Ebola, HIV/AIDS and COVID-19, all of which have had deadly global impacts.
Disease X vs. COVID-19: What’s the difference?
Kate Bingham, the former chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, underscores the potential severity of Disease X in an interview with the Daily Mail. She expresses her belief that Disease X could surpass COVID-19 in terms of lethality, with estimates suggesting it could claim up to 50 million lives.
Despite the global impact of COVID-19, a vast majority of the infected individuals managed to recover after suffering from mild or no symptoms. In contrast, Disease X could be as contagious as measles but as deadly as Ebola, with a fatality rate that can be as high as 67%. The lurking presence of such a virus, silently replicating somewhere in the world, poses a grave concern.
According to Bingham, there is an imperative need to develop comprehensive pandemic preparedness plans and prepare for mass vaccination drives. She emphasises that one of the initial actions needed is a substantial allocation of financial resources. She also stresses that the cost of inaction will be astronomical, as even the milder COVID-19 virus resulted in staggering economic losses exceeding USD 16 trillion in lost output and public health expenditure.
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The quest for a vaccine for Disease X
Currently, no approved vaccines exist for Disease X. However, Bingham emphasises the importance of developing a portfolio of prototype vaccines, each tailored to address the unique characteristics of various virus families. This is because different types of vaccines stimulate distinct immune responses, offering varying levels of protection.
Bingham also highlights the need to consider manufacturing capabilities, noting that some vaccine formats may be suitable for large-scale production, while others may be more accessible to third-world countries. Additionally, researchers must explore innovative technologies and approaches to vaccine design to create more effective and efficient solutions.
The origin of Disease X
While the origins of Disease X remain unknown, certain virus families stand out as potential sources for the next pandemic. Among the roughly two dozen virus families that can infect humans, six—Adenoviridae, Coronaviridae, Orthomyxoviridae, Paramyxoviridae, Picornaviridae and Poxviridae—exhibit characteristics that make them prime candidates. These traits include a lack of inherent immunity, respiratory transmission, silent transmission by asymptomatic carriers and the absence of effective medications or vaccines.
Preventing the next pandemic – Disease X
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) September 27, 2023
To avert another catastrophic pandemic, several crucial steps must be taken:
Surveillance for early detection:
To prevent another pandemic, invest in surveillance systems.
Develop a strong global surveillance network to spot emerging threats early.
Recognise the links between human, animal and environmental health.
Identify and reduce risks through a unified approach.
Stockpile essential supplies and establish rapid response teams.
Responsible antibiotic use:
Implement antimicrobial stewardship to combat drug-resistant pathogens.
Strengthen healthcare systems to handle both pandemics and routine healthcare needs.
Containment and mitigation:
Develop and follow international guidelines for bioterrorism control.
Enforce immediate and effective travel restrictions.
Implement strict airport screening to prevent the spread of Disease X across borders.
Engage global leaders, scientists, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts.
Employ widespread testing, surveillance and aggressive contact tracing to contain outbreaks promptly.
Accelerate medical measures:
Concentrate efforts to speed up access to critical medical resources.
Ensure rapid availability of test kits, vaccines and first aid during a pandemic.
Prioritise ongoing research on preventive measures, including vaccine development, to combat the severe consequences of Disease X.
In conclusion, Disease X represents a formidable and unknown threat and while the world still grapples with COVID-19, it is crucial to prepare for the possibility of another, potentially deadlier, pandemic on the horizon.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– What is Disease X?
Disease X represents a term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to describe a severe international epidemic that could be caused by an unknown pathogen.
– What is the full name of COVID-19?
COVID-19 stands for Coronavirus disease 2019. It is an infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
– Which virus is responsible for COVID-19?
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a member of the coronavirus family.
(Header and feature image courtesy: Credits: Pexels.com)