World health experts warn against 'Disease x'

Disease X’ could be the world’s worst nightmare

A number of additional diseases were discussed and considered for inclusion in the priority list, including: Arenaviral hemorrhagic fevers other than Lassa Fever; Chikungunya; highly pathogenic coronaviral diseases other than MERS and SARS; emergent non-polio enteroviruses (including EV71, D68); Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS); Monkeypox and Leptospirosis. Disease X is such potential outbreak of new epidemic threat according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO experts named the diseases as having epidemic potential as there is an absence of "efficacious drugs and or vaccines".

"These diseases pose major public health risks and further research and development is needed, including surveillance and diagnostics", the WHO said in a press release.

"Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious global epidemic could be caused by a pathogen now unknown", the organization also added that "Disease X" may cause a worldwide epidemic.

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"This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it indicate the most likely causes of the next epidemic", the World Health Organization said.

As for where Disease X could come from, nobody knows for sure, but there a multitude of possible sources, including existing viruses that demonstrate new virulence and symptoms (such as Zika virus), engineered viruses escaped from laboratories or used as bioweapons, and zoonotic infections transferred from animals to humans. The use of chemical weapons is on the rise now, and sometimes, an act of terror may introduce the unknown pathogen to the humankind. Ebola is also a zoonosis. "It is probably the greatest risk", said Mr Rottingen. There are also fears that Disease X could spread in light of a natural disaster or accident.

This is not to scare people, WHO adds, but to motivate public health authorities around the world to prepare for all kinds of threats, not just those that are predictable. 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.

For numerous other diseases discussed, including Zika, Rift Valley fever (RVF) and Nipah and henipaviral diseases, the organisation suggested that health experts need to focus on better diagnostics.

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