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Beware of mystery 'Disease X', scientists warn

Posted on Sunday, 11 March, 2018 | Comment icon 14 comments

Humanity could be at risk from any number of currently unknown pathogens. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 NIAID
The World Health Organization has highlighted the potential danger of a deadly, as-yet-unknown pathogen.
Each year, the global health body convenes a meeting of senior scientists in an effort to put together a concise list of the most likely diseases to cause a major international public health emergency.

While it isn't surprising to see viruses such as Zika and Ebola make it on to the list, this time around something unexpected has been added - a mysterious malady referred to only as 'Disease X'.

As it turns out however, this unspecified disease is actually a placeholder.

"Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease," WHO said in a statement.

With the potential for gene editing to produce a disease far deadlier than anything ever seen before, it is not difficult to see why health authorities are being advised to expect the unexpected.

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

"It may seem strange to be adding an 'X' but the point is 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."

Source: Sydney Morning Herald | Comments (14)

Tags: Disease X

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by darkmoonlady on 11 March, 2018, 22:39
Not a matter of if but when. Once a pandemic starts there won't be much to stop it early on. Global travel between high population centers will virtually guarantee world wide spread. The Spanish flu was helped to spread by international travel during WWI, imagine now with planes zipping across the globe. 
Comment icon #6 Posted by Nzo on 12 March, 2018, 0:40
I find it very refreshing, that they actually point to the fact, that they have no clue. It speaks of humble researchers vitally aware that we really don't know much and what little we do know is not enough to protect us in the future. The way scientific research should be. We also have to take into account CRISPR and all the new mutations that technology is going to bring in as it becomes much much more sophisticated, accurate and easily accessible.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Grandpa Greenman on 12 March, 2018, 12:07
Here is the care for universal health care. Get everyone you can on the same page with primary care, so there is a chance to nip it in the bug.  
Comment icon #8 Posted by pallidin on 12 March, 2018, 19:30
Of course, one can't take proactive or remedial medical steps against an entirely fictitious pathogen with unknown attributes. But, I think that's part of the point. Likely a thrust to formalize emergency procedures and to recognize existing "safe-places/safe-procedures" in the event of a world-wide catastrophic outbreak of such a potent unknown in order to at least help ensure the partial survivability of the human race, and suggestive methods to eradicate or contain the threat if possible. So, it seems this effort is generally "procedural", but of a very high order; recognizing that some ind... [More]
Comment icon #9 Posted by atom2084 on 12 March, 2018, 22:27
If an unknown disease were to spread, perhaps it would be brought on from other scientists who were so hell bent on resurrecting viruses from our past. 
Comment icon #10 Posted by XenoFish on 12 March, 2018, 22:42
Comment icon #11 Posted by Doug1o29 on 13 March, 2018, 0:51
One possible such disease is an as-yet-nonexistent version of bird flu.  One cannot develop a vaccine for it until it exists, and yet, most of its genome already exists in other flu strains.  So it would be possible to develop a vaccine for it from already-existing strains. Like you say, this is most-likely a precaution.  What do we do if... Doug
Comment icon #12 Posted by Hawkin on 14 March, 2018, 19:47
In the US Heart Disease and Cancer are the top killers. Maybe we need to find a cure for those.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Doug1o29 on 14 March, 2018, 20:02
We already know how dangerous these are and they are not likely to get any worse. Possible epidemics like bird flu are not problems at the moment, but they have the potential to get very bad, very fast.  That's the reason for the concern. Doug  
Comment icon #14 Posted by Piney on 15 March, 2018, 1:24
The bird "feeding frenzy" is very popular with people wanting them around their houses. Perhaps another form of a zoonotic disease could crop up.  My people didn't domesticate animals because we didn't figure out how. We didn't domesticate animals because we thought it was unclean to have them around. That is why food processing areas are only found outside of village and hamlet sites in known Algonquian habitations.

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