A new disease is causing serious concern for healthcare professionals and scientists around the world. Named Disease X, the mystery pathogen has been added to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of serious diseases that could be of major risk to the health of people across the globe.
The potentially deadly disease is the ninth item to be added to the list, which includes Lassa fever and the Zika virus. “Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” WHO said in a statement. The Geneva-based organisation, which aims to monitor world health and prevent epidemics, works with senior scientists each year to create the list.
Scientific adviser to the WHO committee and chief executive of the Research Council of Norway John-Arne Rottingen says that the next global virus is expected to be something new entirely. “History tells us that it is likely the next big outbreak will be something we have not seen before,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports. “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 adds that Disease X is likely to emerge either by accident or through a pathogen that jumps from animals to humans, such as the H1N1 swine flu virus of 2009. “It is vital that we are aware and prepare. It is probably the greatest risk,” he warns.