Disease X

Disease X

  • The World Health Organization designates an infection as “Disease X” if it has the potential to spark the next global pandemic or epidemic.
  • It is a possible new infectious agent; it does not refer to a specific disease.
  • “Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” states the World Health Organization (WHO).1.
  • It stands for a disease that is unknown at the moment but has the potential to become a major microbiological hazard to people in the future.
  • Being ready is essential as a large reservoir of viruses that are circulating among wildlife could give rise to a novel infectious illness against which humans are not immune.
  • Disease X joined renowned killers like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola on a list of viruses that the World Health Organization (WHO) designated as having high priority for research in 2018.
  • The designation of this possible threat as “Disease X” is intended to focus attention on measures to combat an illness for which there are currently no medications or vaccines and which could spread to cause a serious epidemic.

Why is Disease X in the news?

  • The World Health Organization has been alerting world leaders to the dangers of upcoming pandemics during this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
  • According to some, this could incite fear, says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.
  • Not at all. It is preferable to plan ahead and foresee potential events because they have frequently occurred in our history.

What could be this Disease X be?

  • The reason it is named Disease X is because we don’t know. Even before the covid-19 outbreak, a wide group of viruses known as the coronaviruses were considered a serious threat to cause a new pandemic.
  • This is due to the fact that this group of pathogens included other deadly ones before the new coronavirus.
  • A distinct coronavirus began to circulate in China in 2002. It produced SARS pneumonia, which killed around 1 in 10 of people it infected before stringent infection control methods eradicated it.
  • Every now and again, a second, more deadly coronavirus known as MERS erupts, killing one in three of people afflicted with pneumonia.
  • Recent research indicates that SARS and MERS would be less likely to start a new pandemic, though, as practically everyone in the globe already carries antibodies against the covid-19 virus, which appears to provide some protection against the majority of other coronavirus diseases.

What was the Davos panel on Disease X?

  • Healthcare experts emphasized at the Davos summit that governments should start researching and taking preventive action for Disease X well in advance of a recognized breakout in order to save money and lives.
  • Of course, some individuals worry that this could spread fear. As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus joined the panel, he stated, “It’s better to anticipate something that may happen because it has happened in our history many times, and prepare for it.”
  • According to him, the WHO has already begun taking action to get ready for a potential pandemic.
  • This will assist address the issue of vaccine imbalance between high- and low-income nations by enabling the local manufacture of vaccines through a pandemic fund and a “technology transfer hub” in South Africa.

Regarding Disease X, the CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Richard Hatchett, stated that although it may sound like science fiction, we need to be ready for it.2.

Disease X is included with illnesses like Ebola, Zika, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as diseases that the WHO prioritizes highly for research and development.1.

Unexpected infectious disease (Disease X) outbreaks have frequently shaken medical trust and caught everyone off guard.3.

While some authors have referred to Zika as a Disease X, other specialists have even stated that COVID-19, which is caused by SARS-CoV-2, meets the criteria to be designated the first Disease X.5.

Sadly, it’s possible that COVID-19 and other previous pandemics were just softer forms of the disease that will eventually become the most well-known, called Disease X.

What is the pathogen that causes Disease X?

  • “Pathogen X” is thought to be the cause of disease X.
  • Such a pathogen is anticipated to be a zoonosis, most likely an RNA virus, that arises from a location where a specific combination of risk variables greatly increases the likelihood of long-term transmission.6

How can Disease X be prevented?

  • The covid-19 pandemic may have made it simpler to halt any subsequent Disease X outbreak, which is good news.
  • Covid-19 sparked the creation of innovative vaccination designs, such as those that are easily adaptable to target new infections.
  • For example, it paved the way for the development of mRNA-based vaccinations.
  • This formula comprises a brief genetic segment that causes the body’s immune cells to create the coronavirus “spike” protein; but, by altering the mRNA sequence, it may be modified to cause the cells to manufacture a different protein.

Funding for the monitoring, investigation, and treatment of newly developing potential pandemic agents that could cause Disease X is desperately needed.8

Despite the dire circumstances, actions can be made to prevent Disease X from spreading and causing further harm by adequately and proactively planning for it.

  1. To combat bioterrorism, worldwide norms must be created. An epidemic could also be caused by bioterrorism assaults, such as when Lassa or Ebola viruses are utilized as biological weapons.
  2. Academic advice should be requested promptly and without regard to politics.
  3. To stop the spread of virus X across international boundaries, prompt and suitable travel restrictions and airport screening measures must be put in place.
  4. To quickly detect, manage, and eradicate the illness, researchers, medical professionals, and specialists in infectious diseases from around the globe must work together.
  5. The outbreak can be successfully contained by vigorous contact tracing combined with widespread testing.
  6. Prompt investments can be made to hasten the creation, accessibility, and approval of medical countermeasures (such as vaccines, clinical trials, and diagnostics) that are necessary both before and during the pandemic.
  7. To prevent a possible release of a new virus, virus labs must be actively monitored.
  • Additionally, a One Health strategy has been put forth that offers a comprehensive method of addressing the fundamental problems that led to the spread of Disease X.
  • These problems include bridging institutional gaps, prioritizing risk areas and pathogens, and highlighting alleged risk factors for events that involve newly and re-emerging infectious disease pathogens in the future.11
  • The global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 epidemic is not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last. As a result, we must start getting ready for the next outbreak right once.

Is there anything more we can do to combat Disease X?

  • According to Tedros, nations need to improve their early warning systems for emerging illnesses and strengthen their health systems’ capacity to withstand sudden spikes in demand. “We lost a lot of people because we could not handle them when hospitals were overburdened [with COVID].
  • Both space and oxygen were in short supply.
  • Tedros believes that in order to keep things from happening again in the event of Disease X, health services need to be ready to scale up or down as needed.
  • Fortunately, they don’t need to know the specifics of Disease X to start making such precautions.
  • He claims that “Disease X is a placeholder.” “You can get ready for any disease that you may have.”


  1. Prioritizing diseases for research and development in emergency contexts. World Health Organization website. https://www.who.int/activities/prioritizing-diseases-for-research-and-development-in-emergency-contexts. Accessed May 30, 2021.
  2. Disease X: science fiction or a very real and frightening threat? The Telegraph website. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/must-work-together-prevent-disease-x/. Accessed June 1, 2021.
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  7. Kamradt-Scott A.WHO’s to blame? The World Health Organization and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Third World Qtrly 2016;37:401–418. [Google Scholar]
  8. Iserson KV.The next pandemic: prepare for “Disease X.” West J Emergency Med 2020;21:756. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  9. Armitage R, Nellums LB.Disease X: availability bias, biotechnology, and seeing beyond zoonotic risk. Public Health 2021;190:e25. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
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  11. Chatterjee P, Nair P, Chersich M, et al. One Health,“Disease X,” and the challenge of “unknown” unknowns. Indian J Med Res 2021;153:264. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

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