While the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over, healthcare professionals are now preparing for a potential new pandemic called Disease X.
The next pandemic could take 50 million lives, said Dame Kate Bingham, who chaired the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, saying that it might already be on its way and that COVID-19 was not that lethal. The new pandemic has been dubbed Disease X by the World Health Organization (WHO), and Bingham says it could be 20 times deadlier than coronavirus. Bingham told Daily Mail, “The world will have to prepare for mass vaccination drives and deliver the doses in record time… Imagine that Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola (67 percent). Somewhere in the world, it’s replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick.”
According to Bingham, while scientists have identified 25 virus families encompassing thousands of individual viruses, there are millions of other viruses yet to be discovered, as reported by the Daily Mail.
“While COVID-19 and its variants have an impact in terms of recurring and familiar health issues, healthcare professionals are now preparing for a potential new pandemic called Disease X. Healthcare experts have issued a caution that this new virus can be as devastating as the Spanish Flu. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Disease X refers to a pathogen—known or potentially unknown—that can cause a large-scale, serious pandemic leading to mass-scale human disease,” says Dr. Neha Rastogi, Consultant, infectious disease, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.
What is disease X?
“Disease X is possibly and plausibly caused by a ‘pathogen X’. It could be related to zoonotic disease, likely an RNA virus, emerging from an area where the epidemiological triad-environment host favors sustained transmission. These emerging/re-emerging z pathogens can be labelled as X and they are a threat which mandates intense and ongoing active surveillance and monitoring,” says Dr Rastogi.
There is postulated data about the possibility of syndrome X as an engineered pandemic pathogen. Incidental laboratory accidents, or as an act of bioterrorism, might lead to a disastrous disease X, which can potentially pose a global catastrophic risk, says the expert.
“Containment and mitigation strategies involve the development and implementation of uniform international guidelines to control bioterrorism. Immediate and appropriate travel restrictions, including strict airport screening, are required to be implemented to contain the spread of pathogen X across borders. It also necessitates the collaborative approach of global leaders, scientists, epidemiologists, and infectious disease experts to investigate, control, and eliminate disease X. Widespread and mass testing, surveillance, and aggressive contact tracing are potential effective tools to timely contain outbreak-like situations,” says Dr. Rastogi.
“Concentrated efforts to accelerate the access and rapid availability of immediate medical measures—test kits, vaccines, and first aid—were required before and during the pandemic. The ongoing continuum of research on preventive aspects—the development and process of vaccines—needs a boost and heightened priorities to abate and combat the severe adverse consequences of disease X,” she says.
“A One Health approach that aims at bridging institutional gaps, building and stratifying priority risk and alert pathogens, and emphasizing mitigation strategies for emerging and re-emerging pathogens—potential disease X—should be the need of the hour to prevent these global catastrophes,” concludes the expert.