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What is Disease X?
Disease X is a term used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to describe a potential unknown pathogen that could cause a future pandemic. It is not a specific disease, but rather a placeholder name for any new or emerging infectious agent that could pose a serious threat to human health.
The WHO added Disease X to its list of priority diseases in 2018, along with other known diseases such as Ebola, Zika and Lassa fever. The purpose of this list is to guide research and development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for these diseases.
According to the WHO, Disease X could be caused by a virus, bacterium, fungus or parasite that jumps from animals to humans, or by a deliberate or accidental release of a biological agent. It could also be a result of genetic mutation or recombination of existing pathogens.
What are the possible symptoms of Disease X?
Since Disease X is not a specific disease, it is impossible to predict its exact symptoms. However, based on previous pandemics and outbreaks, some possible signs and symptoms could include:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain
- Organ failure
The severity and duration of these symptoms could vary depending on the type and strain of the pathogen, the mode of transmission, the immune status of the host and the availability of treatment.
How deadly is Disease X?
The mortality rate of Disease X is also unknown, but it could be higher than COVID-19, which has killed over 2.5 million people worldwide since its emergence in 2020. A UK health expert has warned that Disease X could be 20 times deadlier than COVID-19, with the potential to kill up to 50 million people .
Dame Kate Bingham, former chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, said that Disease X could spread as easily as measles and be as fatal as Ebola, which has a 67 percent death rate. She also said that Disease X might already be spreading somewhere in the world, and that someone will eventually start showing symptoms.
How can we prevent Disease X?
The best way to prevent Disease X is to strengthen global health security and preparedness. This means improving surveillance and detection of emerging pathogens, developing rapid and accurate diagnostics, creating effective vaccines and treatments, enhancing infection prevention and control measures, and promoting public health education and awareness.
The WHO has also urged countries to implement the International Health Regulations (IHR), which are legally binding rules that aim to prevent, protect against, control and respond to public health emergencies of international concern.
Additionally, individuals can take some steps to reduce their risk of exposure to infectious diseases, such as:
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick or have symptoms
- Wearing a mask or face covering when in public or crowded places
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow
- Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects
- Staying home when sick and seeking medical attention if needed
- Getting vaccinated against preventable diseases
- Practicing safe food handling and hygiene
- Avoiding contact with wild or sick animals or their products