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Disease X Is What May Become The Biggest Infectious Threat To Our World

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Someday, Disease X will cause a scene like this. (Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now added Disease X to its Blueprint list of priority diseases. What? WHO? What the heck is Disease X? No, this is not Wolverine getting a bad hangnail, Mystique getting jaundiced, or some other X-Men problem. Nor is it caused by Generation X, the generation supposedly “steeped in irony, detachment, and a sense of dread.” And, no it isn’t a bad bottle of Dos Equis XX.

After the second annual review of the Bluprint list occurred February 6-7, 2018, Disease X appeared at the end of the following list of diseases for which the WHO determined accelerated research and development is urgently needed:

  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF)
  • Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease
  • Lassa fever
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Nipah and henipaviral diseases
  • Rift Valley fever (RVF)
  • Zika
  • Disease X

If this list were the answer in a Jeopardy contest, the question would be: what would you not want to get? Or what do you not want to invite to a dinner party? Or what could cause a public health emergency? And what diseases don’t have adequate drugs and/or vaccines to prevent and treat them?

You’ve probably heard of Ebola, Zika, MERS, and SARS. Lassa Fever is spread by rat pee and poop and can cause you to bleed in lots of places and kill you. CCHF is spread by ticks and can cause you to bleed in lots of places and kill you. Marburg Virus is spread person-to-person through body fluids and can cause you to bleed in lots of places and kill you. (Are you detecting a trend here?)

Healthcare workers in protective equipment bury a 13-year-old boy dying of Lassa fever at a specific location on March 5, 2014 in Bo district, Sierra Leone. In some parts of Sierra Leone, 10-16% of hospitalized patients have Lassa fever, an acute viral hemorrhagic fever endemic to parts of West Africa. Sierra Leone a high child mortality rate and in addition to this one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of around 890 deaths per 100, 000 live births. With the introduction of an ambulance referral system and access to 24-hour emergency obstetric care amongst other initiatives, MSF have managed to drastically reduce these deaths. Doctors Without Boarders (Médecins Sans Frontières) started the Gondama Referral Centre in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Heath and offers free heath care to pregnant women and children under the age of 15. (Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images)

You can catch the Nipah virus from infected bats, pigs, or people (depending on whom you tend to hang out with) and then subsequently develop inflammation of the brain that can lead to neurological problems, convulsions, personality changes, and death. Livestock can transmit the RVF virus to you. While you may have only mild symptoms like fever and some liver abnormalities, in some cases, you can develop eye problems (including going blind), suffer inflammation of the brain, and, yes, bleed in lots of places.

What can happen with Disease X? Who knows? (Not who as in WHO but who as in no one really knows.) That’s the point. There is a high probability that the next big epidemic will come from a completely unexpected source, a pathogen that has not yet revealed itself. And as they say, the most dangerous enemy is the one that you don’t know. It’s not as if most people were expecting the Zika epidemic to occur in 2015 to 2016. Before 2015, very few people in the world paid attention to the Zika virus.&nbsp;A dangerous virus&nbsp;or some other pathogen won’t call or Tweet everyone and say, “yeah, I’m getting antsy. Watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills isn’t really doing it for me. Here’s a heads up that I will probably start causing trouble in about a year. Cheers.”

Thus, Disease X represents “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.” As philosopher and former puncher of faces Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” When is the last time that you completely anticipated the biggest challenges, the biggest threats in your life?

A quote from former US heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson (L) applies to life and epidemics. (Photo: Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images)

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Someday, Disease X will cause a scene like this. (Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now added Disease X to its Blueprint list of priority diseases. What? WHO? What the heck is Disease X? No, this is not Wolverine getting a bad hangnail, Mystique getting jaundiced, or some other X-Men problem. Nor is it caused by Generation X, the generation supposedly “steeped in irony, detachment, and a sense of dread.” And, no it isn’t a bad bottle of Dos Equis XX.

After the second annual review of the Bluprint list occurred February 6-7, 2018, Disease X appeared at the end of the following list of diseases for which the WHO determined accelerated research and development is urgently needed:

  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF)
  • Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease
  • Lassa fever
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Nipah and henipaviral diseases
  • Rift Valley fever (RVF)
  • Zika
  • Disease X

If this list were the answer in a Jeopardy contest, the question would be: what would you not want to get? Or what do you not want to invite to a dinner party? Or what could cause a public health emergency? And what diseases don’t have adequate drugs and/or vaccines to prevent and treat them?

You’ve probably heard of Ebola, Zika, MERS, and SARS. Lassa Fever is spread by rat pee and poop and can cause you to bleed in lots of places and kill you. CCHF is spread by ticks and can cause you to bleed in lots of places and kill you. Marburg Virus is spread person-to-person through body fluids and can cause you to bleed in lots of places and kill you. (Are you detecting a trend here?)

Healthcare workers in protective equipment bury a 13-year-old boy dying of Lassa fever at a specific location on March 5, 2014 in Bo district, Sierra Leone. In some parts of Sierra Leone, 10-16% of hospitalized patients have Lassa fever, an acute viral hemorrhagic fever endemic to parts of West Africa. Sierra Leone a high child mortality rate and in addition to this one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of around 890 deaths per 100, 000 live births. With the introduction of an ambulance referral system and access to 24-hour emergency obstetric care amongst other initiatives, MSF have managed to drastically reduce these deaths. Doctors Without Boarders (Médecins Sans Frontières) started the Gondama Referral Centre in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Heath and offers free heath care to pregnant women and children under the age of 15. (Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images)

You can catch the Nipah virus from infected bats, pigs, or people (depending on whom you tend to hang out with) and then subsequently develop inflammation of the brain that can lead to neurological problems, convulsions, personality changes, and death. Livestock can transmit the RVF virus to you. While you may have only mild symptoms like fever and some liver abnormalities, in some cases, you can develop eye problems (including going blind), suffer inflammation of the brain, and, yes, bleed in lots of places.

What can happen with Disease X? Who knows? (Not who as in WHO but who as in no one really knows.) That’s the point. There is a high probability that the next big epidemic will come from a completely unexpected source, a pathogen that has not yet revealed itself. And as they say, the most dangerous enemy is the one that you don’t know. It’s not as if most people were expecting the Zika epidemic to occur in 2015 to 2016. Before 2015, very few people in the world paid attention to the Zika virus. A dangerous virus or some other pathogen won’t call or Tweet everyone and say, “yeah, I’m getting antsy. Watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills isn’t really doing it for me. Here’s a heads up that I will probably start causing trouble in about a year. Cheers.”

Thus, Disease X represents “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.” As philosopher and former puncher of faces Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” When is the last time that you completely anticipated the biggest challenges, the biggest threats in your life?

A quote from former US heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson (L) applies to life and epidemics. (Photo: Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images)

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