A deadly new illness dubbed ‘Disease X’ could wipe out millions of people around the world, the World Health Organisation has warned
A deadly new illness dubbed ‘Disease X’ could wipe out millions of people around the world.
The unknown disease has been added to the list of potential global epidemics by scientists at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Ebola, SARS and Zika viruses were also on the list this year, but unlike these pathogens it is not known what causes Disease X or how it may be treated.
It was added to the threat list to acknowledge the fact that the next pandemic could be started by an illness that has not caused problems before.
The hope is that formally including a potential future disease will push countries and researchers to work even harder to create protections against unknown epidemics.
Norwegian scientist and WHO adviser John-Arne Rottingen told The Daily Telegraph it represents the importance of flexibility in vaccines and diagnostic tests.
Disease X could arise out of man-made means rather than from nature.
It is feared that chemical and biological weapons are increasingly being produced and used.
And they could be especially dangerous because humans have not built up any resistance to them over time, so can spread rapidly.
Ebola, SARS and Zika viruses were also on the list this year, but unlike these pathogens it is not known what causes Disease X or how it may be treated (above: flu virus cells under microscope)
Chemical bombs were dropped on civilians during Syria’s civil war, and nerve agent VX was believed to have been used in the assassination of Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother last year.
The Zika and SARS viruses sprung up and killed scores of people before being brought under control (above: a baby infected by Zika)
More recently, police have confirmed that a nerve agent was used to attack former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury this week.
But Disease X could also arise from the natural world, like Spanish Flu and HIV, as animals and humans come into ever-increasing contact.
And modern travel and trade make it much more likely they will spread, WHO adviser Professor Marion Koopmans told The Daily Telegraph.
For example, the Zika and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) viruses sprung up and killed scores of people before being brought under control.
More common diseases such as flu could also cause devastation.
The WHO warned yesterday that the next global flu epidemic could begin tomorrow and kill as many as 33 million people in just 200 days.