In an apparent fear of the unknown, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned ahead of a possible epidemic that could be caused by a yet to exist disease it refers to as ‘Disease X’.
The caution is contained in the 2018 edition of the organisation’s annual review of the Blueprint list of priority diseases.
The organisation released a list of diseases it considers pose a high risk to the public due to their potential to spark an epidemic and the limited treatment available to combat them.
Virus such as Ebola, Zika, Lassa fever and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which have all seen outbreaks in recent years are included as serious threats.
However, the apex health agency has included the ominous-sounding Disease X to its priority list for the first time this year after a review by health experts in February.
The most probable source of the disease is zoonotic diseases present in wild and domesticated animals, and can be transmitted to humans.
Disease X is in fact not a newly-discovered threat in itself, but a hypothetical virus, which could emerge in the future and cause widespread infection across the globe.
“Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease”, the WHO said in a statement.
It added healthcare officials were planning for a currently unidentified threat now to ensure: “research and development preparedness that is relevant for an unknown Disease X as far as possible.”
“It may seem strange to be adding an ‘X’ but the point is to make sure we prepare and plan flexibly in terms of vaccines and diagnostic tests.
“We want to see ‘plug and play’ platforms developed which will work for any, or a wide number of diseases; systems that will allow us to create countermeasures at speed.”
Mr Rottingen said Disease X could come from a variety of sources, although it was most likely developed through zoonotic transmission, where an infectious disease which usually afflicts animals jumps to humans.