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Disease X: Is the World Ready for the Next Pandemic?

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Experts Warn of an Unknown Pathogen Threat

January 20, 2024 – As the world continues to grapple with the aftermath of COVID-19, experts are turning their attention to a new potential threat, often termed “Disease X”. This hypothetical pathogen, not yet known to cause disease in humans, could potentially trigger a serious global health crisis, as warned by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Understanding ‘Disease X’

‘Disease X’ represents the possibility of a future epidemic caused by an unknown pathogen. The WHO has included ‘Disease X’ on its list of priority diseases, which covers pathogens identified or unknown that may pose significant threats but lack adequate countermeasures.

The Next Pandemic: Virus-Caused?

Experts like Ian Jones, Professor of Virology at the University of Reading, believe that a virus is most likely to be the cause of the next pandemic. Viruses can appear suddenly and spread quickly. Coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2 which caused COVID-19, are potential sources, though the current high level of immunity in the population due to recent infections might reduce the immediate threat.

Flu: A Historical Threat

Historically, influenza viruses have caused pandemics many times, with the 1918 Spanish flu being the most devastating. The potential for a new type of influenza to emerge remains a significant risk.

Other Potential Threats: Ebola and Nipah Virus

While Ebola and similar viruses like the Marburg virus are lethal, they do not spread as easily between people to become a global concern. Nipah virus, a paramyxovirus identified in Malaysia in 1998, has caused infections and deaths in India and is among those viruses listed as potential causes of the next pandemic.

Global Preparedness and Response

The rapid development of vaccines against COVID-19 demonstrates that the world may be better positioned to respond to future pandemics than in previous decades. The introduction of new vaccine technologies, like mRNA vaccines, has been a significant advancement.

Minimizing Pandemic Risks

To reduce the risks of another pandemic, experts emphasize the importance of minimizing interactions that could lead to virus transmission from animals to humans, such as the trade in wild animal bushmeat.

Conclusion

While the world has made strides in pandemic preparedness and response, the threat of ‘Disease X’ looms as a reminder of the constant need for vigilance and readiness to tackle unknown pathogens that could pose global health risks.

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