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WHO: Is the global health emergency threatened by unknown disease X?


Global health risk: WHO warns of disease X threat

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been publishing a list of dangerous diseases and pathogens that pose a risk to public health and for which there are no or inadequate countermeasures. This year, the experts also list “Disease X”. This could create a global emergency.

Public health risk

Since 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a list of diseases and pathogens that "pose a risk to public health and for which there are no or insufficient countermeasures," the organization reports on its website. For the first time this year, “Disease X” is listed. According to the experts, this could cause an international health emergency.

Possible epidemic due to disease X

As the WHO writes, experts believe that accelerated research is urgently needed for the following diseases "given their potential to cause a public health emergency and the lack of effective drugs and / or vaccines":

- Crimean Congo fever
- Ebola and Marburg fever
- Lassa fever
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
- SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)
- Nipah and Henipa virus
- Rift Valley fever
- Zika

And: Disease X. This disease does not really exist. What is meant by this is that an as yet unknown pathogen could at any time lead to the outbreak of a previously neglected disease.

Deadly new viruses could be created

"History tells us that the next major outbreak is likely to be something we haven't seen before," said John-Arne Rottingen, executive director of the Norwegian Research Council and scientific adviser to the WHO Committee in an article in the British newspaper Telegraph ".

"It may seem strange to add an" X ", but the point is that we have to prepare and plan flexibly for vaccinations and diagnostic tests," said the scientist.

They want to develop platforms and systems that make it possible to initiate quick countermeasures for a wide range of diseases.

According to Rottingen, a man-made disease X is less likely than a naturally occurring one, but he warned: "Synthetic biology enables the creation of deadly new viruses."

Diseases that jump from animals to humans

However, it is more likely that an as yet unknown disease will spread from animals to humans and then possibly trigger an epidemic, like the swine flu in 2009.

"As the ecosystem and human habitats change, there is always the risk that diseases can spread from animals to humans," said Rottingen.

"It is a natural process and it is important that we are aware of it and prepare. That’s probably the biggest risk. ”

Known diseases are also a major threat

Professor Marion Koopmans, WHO's scientific advisor at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, said the frequency with which zoonoses would occur would be much faster.

She added: “The intensity of contact between animals and humans increases with the development of the world. This makes new diseases more likely, but modern travel and commerce also make them more likely to spread. ”

But it is not only the diseases that are on the current list that can threaten global health.

According to the WHO, diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, influenza, smallpox, cholera, West Nile virus or plague “still pose major problems for public health and further research and development are required through existing disease-fighting initiatives ”. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: This Is Not a Drill: A Hypothetical Pandemic (August 2020).