The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a global alert for ‘Disease X’. In its 2018 annual review of the Blueprint priority diseases, the organisation has listed this new and potentially dangerous pathogen as part of eight others that could possibly spark an international epidemic.
Every year, the WHO publishes an annual Blueprint review that lists diseases and pathogens to prioritise for research and development. “These diseases pose major public health risks, and further research and development is needed, including surveillance and diagnostics,” it said in a statement. In the past, diseases such as Lassa fever and Ebola have been listed.
So, what is Disease X?
Disease X is a mystery pathogen, that has been added to the WHO’s blueprint for the first time. The organisation has described it as representing the “knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.” It could reportedly emerge from multiple sources and may strike at any time.
“History tells us that it is likely that the next big outbreak will be something we have not seen before”, John-Arne Rottingen, chief executive of the Research Council of Norway and a scientific adviser to the WHO committee, was quoted as saying by Telegraph UK. “It may seem strange to be adding an ‘X’ but the point is to make sure we prepare and plan flexibly in terms of vaccines and diagnostic tests. We want to see ‘plug and play’ platforms developed which will work for any, or a wide number of diseases; systems that will allow us to create countermeasures at speed.”
Rottingen, who believes Disease X is more likely to occur naturally rather than be man-made, added that it could emerge from a zoonotic disease — one that is spread from animals to humans, such as swine flu.