Deadlier than Covid-19, Disease X could be next pandemic, warns UK expert

Deadlier than Covid-19, Disease X could be next pandemic, warns UK expert

Sep 26, 2023 - 20:30
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Deadlier than Covid-19, Disease X could be next pandemic, warns UK expert

A potential global health threat known as Disease X, a term coined by the World Health Organization (WHO), could potentially trigger a deadlier pandemic than COVID-19, a UK health expert has warned.

Kate Bingham, former chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, has raised concerns about the severity of Disease X, suggesting it could rival the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919.

What is Disease X

WHO defines Disease X as a new, unidentified agent, whether it’s a virus, bacterium, or fungus, for which there are no known treatments. Bingham draws parallels between Disease X and the Spanish Flu, which claimed the lives of at least 50 million people worldwide, surpassing the death toll of World War I.

In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Kate Bingham emphasised the urgency of preparedness. She stressed that if the world is to combat the potential threat posed by Disease X, it must be ready to launch large-scale vaccination campaigns and deliver doses at an unprecedented pace.

Diversity of viruses

Bingham also highlighted the vast diversity of viruses, noting that while scientists have identified 25 virus families, there could be over a million undiscovered variants capable of jumping from one species to another. COVID-19, she explained, was relatively fortunate in that a significant majority of those infected eventually recovered. Disease X, however, could be as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of a disease like Ebola, making it considerably more lethal.

Why increased frequency of pandemics

Pointing to factors contributing to the increased frequency of pandemics, Bingham cited global interconnectedness and the burgeoning urban population. People living in densely populated cities, she noted, often come into close contact with one another, facilitating the spread of infectious diseases. Additionally, deforestation, modern agricultural practices, and the destruction of wetlands have created conditions conducive to viruses crossing over from one species to another.

The WHO first mentioned Disease X on its website in May, describing it as the potential for a severe international epidemic caused by an as-yet-unknown pathogen. This term was introduced by WHO in 2018, a year before COVID-19 began its global spread, highlighting the prescience of preparing for unforeseen health crises.

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