Published: Mon, March 12, 2018
Medicine | By Douglas Stevenson

Scientists put on alert for deadly new pathogen - 'Disease X'

Scientists put on alert for deadly new pathogen - 'Disease X'

This tool seeks to identify those diseases that pose a public health risk due to their epidemic potential and for which there are no, or insufficient, countermeasures. They wanted to list out the pathogens that are likely to affect and kill a large population globally in the near future.

Lassa fever killed 1,081 people and was linked to more than 70 deaths in Nigeria.

This was the third time an advisory group of specialists in infections and bacteria was assembled to think about potential plagues and pandemics.

The first list of prioritized diseases was released in December 2015. Each of these outbreaks have been hard to combat.

This year, for the first time, the World Health Organization added Disease X to the list, in an acknowledgment of the fact it's highly probable another pathogen will soon be added to this record - and by increasing awareness of that probability, it may actually boost research efforts to combat the imminent, unknown, threat. The report comes this February warning the public of the major threats worldwide. According to WHO, "Disease X" will be caused by a pathogen which is not yet identified to cause human diseases.

John-Arne Rottingen of the Research Council of Norway tells the Telegraph that "history tells us that it is likely the next big outbreak will be something we have not seen before".

He added that preparedness meant being ready with appropriate diagnostic tests as well as preventive vaccines. The systems would generate "countermeasures" to any of these illnesses as soon as they break out. The disease may spread from animals to humans similar to Ebola, HIV and salmonella.

Code-named "Disease X", this mystery pathogen hasn't even been discovered yet, but the looming threat of its nearly certain inevitability has secured it a place on the WHO's "most dangerous" list: a catalogue of potential future epidemics for which countermeasures are insufficient - or don't exist at all. These include Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS), emergent non-polio enteroviruses including EV71, D68 and Chikungunya.

In particular, these experts recognized that existing drugs and vaccines need further improvement for several of the diseases considered but not included in the priority list.

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