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In a world constantly battling infectious diseases, one term has been making headlines recently – “Disease X.” But what exactly is Disease X, and why is it capturing the attention of scientists, health experts, and the public alike? In this article, we’ll delve into the origins, characteristics, and the reasons behind the current news buzz surrounding Disease X.
What Is Disease X?
Disease X is not a specific ailment but rather a placeholder for an unknown or unexpected infectious disease. It’s a term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to highlight the potential emergence of novel pathogens that could cause pandemics in the future. Essentially, Disease X represents an ominous wildcard in the realm of infectious diseases.
The idea behind Disease X is to emphasize the ever-present threat of diseases that we don’t even know about yet. In a world where viruses and bacteria are constantly evolving and adapting, it’s essential to remain vigilant and prepared for the unexpected. Disease X serves as a reminder that the next global pandemic may come from an entirely new, unidentified source.
As per WHO definition of Disease X : “Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease. The R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable early cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown “Disease X”.
What’s the point of studying Disease X?
As the WHO puts it, it’s to “enable early cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant” for an unknown disease. The humanitarian crisis sparked by the 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was a wakeup call. Despite decades of research, there were no products ready to deploy in time to save more than 11,000 lives. In response, the WHO created an R&D Blueprint to accelerate development of a range of tools for “priority diseases.”
The current list includes:
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever
Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
Nipah and henipaviral diseases
Rift Valley fever
You can watch web story on Zika Virus, it’s transmission, prevention, vaccine on the link: Zika Virus Explained: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe
You can read in detail about “Priority Disease” on the official website of WHO on the link: WHO Official Website
Why Is Disease X in the News?
Now that we have delved into the enigmatic realm of Disease X, let us embark on a journey to decipher the reasons behind its recent prominence on the global stage.
Interview of Kate Bingham
In an exclusive dialogue with the Daily Mail, Kate Bingham, the former chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce during the pivotal period from May to December 2020, shared her profound worries regarding the forthcoming menace of Disease X. She asserted that Disease X looms on the horizon as a threat far more formidable than the formidable adversary we have come to know as COVID-19.
Drawing from the wisdom of esteemed experts, Disease X emerges as a threat capable of inflicting a staggering toll, with projections hinting at a catastrophic loss of up to 50 million lives. When compared with Covid-19, as per official data of WHO, seven million lives claimed by it globally. This comparison might give you the amount of severity of ‘Disease X’.
In the words of Kate Bingham, “Allow me to paint a grim picture: the devastating 1918-19 flu pandemic claimed the lives of at least 50 million souls across the globe, a death toll twice as grim as the casualties of World War I. Today, we stand at the precipice of a scenario where a similar grim reaper, harbored within the numerous latent viruses, could unleash havoc upon us.”
She solemnly reflects, “In a twist of fate, humanity found itself relatively fortunate with Covid-19, despite its brutal toll of over 20 million lives worldwide (as per WHO this data is 7 millions). The positive point was that the majority of those infected managed to reclaim their lives. Now, 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.”
Probable Cause of Disease X
The surge in outbreaks, Kate Bingham elucidates, stems from the unsettling trend of growing urbanization, as more individuals congregate in densely populated areas. She underscores that the relentless destruction of vast expanses of natural habitat annually contributes significantly to this escalating crisis.
She emphasizes, “This factor warrants particular attention, for approximately three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases trace their origins to the animal kingdom before transcending species boundaries to infect humans under certain circumstances.”
The Importance of Preparedness
Disease X serves as a stark reminder that infectious diseases are a constant threat to global health and stability. While we can’t predict when or where the next pandemic will originate, we can take steps to be better prepared.
Investment in Research
Addressing the urgency of the situation, Kate Bingham insists that a crucial first step involves allocating the requisite financial resources, effectively laying all the cards on the table. She underscores, “The cost of inaction is seismic, as evidenced by the aftermath of Covid-19—a virus milder than Disease X—leaving us grappling with a staggering bill of $16 trillion, accounting for both lost productivity and soaring public health expenditures.”
Kate Bingham gloomily reveals that, although scientists have identified 25 virus families housing thousands of distinct viral species, her conviction is that millions of undiscovered viruses remain waiting in the shadows, poised to evolve into full-fledged pandemics.
In the realm of Disease X vaccines, no approved options currently exist. Nevertheless, Kate Bingham highlights the critical importance of scientists forging an arsenal of “diverse prototype vaccines tailored to combat each menacing viral family.” She emphasizes that only a preemptive leap into the realm of vaccine development can empower us to target the unique facets of Disease X effectively.
Kate Bingham elucidates the concept of a portfolio strategy—a collection of vaccines designed to combat various facets of the virus. She articulates, “Different vaccine formulations stimulate distinct immune responses, thereby furnishing varying levels of protection.”
Furthermore, she draws attention to the significant disparities in manufacturing capabilities across countries and regions. Some vaccine modalities may be willing to large-scale production, while others may be more accessible for production in developing nations. As the fourth and final point, she urges researchers to venture into unexplored territories, exploring novel technologies and approaches to vaccine design that hold the promise of ushering in a new era of more effective and efficient vaccines.
Early detection is key to preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Improved surveillance systems and data sharing among countries can help identify potential outbreaks before they become pandemics.
In response to the looming threat of Disease X, Kate Bingham warns that we must brace ourselves for considerable mass vaccination campaigns and the rapid spreading of life-saving doses on an unprecedented scale.
Disease X is not a specific disease but rather a concept that represents the unknown infectious threats that loom on the horizon. It has garnered attention in recent years due to the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recognition of the need for global preparedness. By investing in research, enhancing surveillance, developing innovative vaccines, promoting global cooperation, and educating the public, we can better prepare ourselves to face the uncertainties of Disease X and protect global health for generations to come.