Warning that the conditions may be ripe for Disease X, World Health Organization is urging "cross-cutting R&D preparedness" to enable preparations for the outbreak of known diseases to also be relevant for a Disease X scenario, insofar as this is possible.
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.
Each year the Geneva-based organisation, which is charged with monitoring and safeguarding world health, convenes a high-level meeting of senior scientists to list diseases that pose a serious risk of prompting a major worldwide public health emergency.
Disease X was listed by the World Health Organization as one of eight priority diseases.
"These diseases posture real general health hazards and further innovative work is required, including reconnaissance and diagnostics", WHO said.
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While Dr. Rottingen believes that Disease X, when it arrives, will likely be a naturally-occurring, "zoonotic disease" - i.e. one the jumps from animals to humans and caused by changes in the ecosystem and growing human-animal contact, deadly germ warfare can not be ruled out, either.
It was the first time when the Disease X has been a topic of discussion.
"It may seem unusual to be adding an "X" but the point is make sure we prepare and plan flexibly in terms of vaccines and diagnostic tests".
The WHO experts named the diseases as having epidemic potential as there is an absence of "efficacious drugs and or vaccines". Ebola, salmonella, and HIV are believed to be zoonoses.
"It's a natural process and it is vital that we are aware and prepare".
Given the rapid development of gene-editing technologies, Disease X could also spring up from human error or malevolence - in which case, having a flexible, widely-applicable plan of action is of paramount importance. Or, on the other hand, it may be brought forth by a terror attack, or just by a simple accident. Primary care systems (local doctors and nurses) are key to safeguarding public health, as they're our best bet for detecting outbreaks of a new disease early on, and containing it before it spreads.