World set for new disease worse than Ebola and SARS

"Disease X" could kill millions around the globe. Source: Pixabay

If you thought last winter’s flu season was a nightmare, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that an array of new diseases may soon have the potential to kill millions of people around the world.

Highlighted in the 2018 annual review of the Blueprint list of priority diseases, WHO said it developed a tool to determine which diseases and pathogens pose a public health risk because of their epidemic potential. It also highlights diseases where there are currently no cures of effective preventative measures.

Of the nine diseases that made the list, one of the most worrying is simply known as “Disease X”. It is believed that Disease X has the potential to mutate from existing diseases such as HIV or the Spanish Flu, although it isn’t yet a disease in its own right.

“Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease, and so the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown ‘Disease X’ as far as possible,” WHO said of Disease X.

Not a great deal is known about the disease yet, although WHO warns that Disease X needed to be included on the list because of its unpredictable nature. 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. There are also fears that Disease X could spread in light of a natural disaster or accident.

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For many of the other diseases discussed, including Zika, Rift Valley fever (RVF) and Nipah and henipaviral diseases, the organisation suggested that health experts need to focus on better diagnostics. Furthermore, there is need for drugs and vaccines to improve dramatically, while additional research will help the fight against the diseases.

The full list included:

  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF)
  • Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease
  • Lassa fever
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Nipah and henipaviral diseases
  • Rift Valley fever (RVF)
  • Zika
  • Disease X

WHO warned that a number of other potentially-deadly diseases that didn’t make the list should still be considered a high priority. These include Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS), emergent non-polio enteroviruses including EV71, D68 and Chikungunya.

“These diseases pose major public health risks and further research and development is needed, including surveillance and diagnostics,” the report read. “They should be watched carefully and considered again at the next annual review. Efforts in the interim to understand and mitigate them are encouraged.”

What do you think? Are you concerned about the potential of a new deadly disease taking over the world? How do you protect yourself against getting ill?