At any given time, a potentially deadly global pandemic could explode and destroy a large part of humanity. This is in any case what the World Health Organization said a few weeks ago. Today, the UN organization is talking about “disease X”, a contagious and deadly disease that does not yet exist.
We do not know anything about it. Simply that it could be the next global epidemic, according to experts from the World Health Organization (WHO). Referred to as “disease X”, this mysterious pathogen has not even been discovered yet. But its imminent and allegedly unavoidable threat has earned it a place on WHO’s “most dangerous” list: a catalog of potential future epidemics against which we are unprepared. But how can a disease that has not even been identified be considered such a serious threat to public health?
Imagine “disease X” instead as a reserved space for contagious risk that we have not yet encountered – but which is almost certain. An “unknown” beast for which we are not yet prepared, but which we must anticipate. This is why it is on this list, prioritizing the main emerging pathogens that can cause serious epidemics in the near future.
The most recent review took place in February, with experts agreeing that the following diseases are the ones that require the most attention from researchers: the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), the Ebola virus and Marburg virus, the Lassa fever or Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Also mentioned are severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), henipaviral diseases, the Rift Valley fever (RVF) and the Zika virus. This year, for the first time, WHO has added disease X to this list, recognizing that it is highly likely that another pathogen will soon be registered. By promoting awareness of this probability, it could stimulate research efforts to address the imminent threat, although it is still unknown.
“The story tells us that it is likely that the next big outbreak will be something we have never seen before,” says John-Arne Rottingen, Executive Director of the Norwegian Research Council and WHO advisor. “It may seem strange to add an “X”, but it’s about making sure that we flexibly prepare and plan diagnostic tests and systems that will allow us to create countermeasures as quickly as possible “.
As to where disease X might come from, no one knows for sure. But there are a multitude of possible sources, including existing viruses that have demonstrated new virulence and new symptoms (as in Zika) but also escaped viruses from laboratories or used as biological weapons, or zoonoses – which relate to diseases and infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans directly or indirectly. “As the ecosystem and human habitats change, there is always a risk that a disease will jump from animal to human,” says the researcher. “It is a natural process and it is vital that we become aware of it and prepare ourselves. It’s probably the biggest risk. ”
Human-animal contacts are intensifying as Man moves. This makes the emergence of new diseases more likely. Travel and global trade spread new diseases quickly across the globe.
Recall that a few weeks ago, Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, explained at the World Summit of Governments in Dubai that the lack of universal health coverage was one of the greatest threats to global health, stating that 3.5 billion people worldwide still do not have access to essential health services.