At the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, world leaders convened to deliberate on the topic of Disease X, an imaginary virus that is twenty times more lethal than COVID-19.
Although there is no known virus of this kind, scientists, researchers, and experts are trying to proactively develop a strategy to fight it and ready the healthcare system in case it becomes a pandemic, which one expert told CBS News might happen sooner than we think.
According to Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, “there are strains of viruses that have very high mortality rates that could develop the ability to transmit from human to human efficiently.”
What is the X-ray disease?
The World Health Organization convened 300 scientists in 2022 to investigate 25 families of viruses and bacteria in order to compile a list of pathogens that they deemed potentially dangerous and deserving of further research. Disease X is on the list; the organization acknowledged it for the first time in 2018.
The World Health Organization states that the virus “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by [an unknown] pathogen.”
COVID-19 may have been our first “Disease X,” according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made the statement on Wednesday in Davos. Experts and scientists are busy studying what they can from this experience.
Where might a pathogen such as Disease X come from?
Adalja suggests that a potentially fatal infection such as Disease X, which is most likely a respiratory virus, may already be present in animal species but is unable to spread to humans at this time.
“That could be bats like COVID-19, it could be in birds like bird flu, or it could be some other type of animal species, swine for example,” he stated. “It’s really about that interface between humans and animals, where interactions are occurring, that these types of viruses get a foothold.”
How are specialists getting ready for Disease X?
Adalja mentioned the 1918 influenza pandemic, which is thought to have killed 50 million people worldwide, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “If we did so poorly with something like COVID-19, you can imagine how poorly we would do with something like a 1918-level event,” Adalja said.
Experts from all around the world have been developing a comprehensive and practical plan to become ready for the worst-case situation because of this. In a future situation, according to Ghebreyesus, an early-warning system and a plan for health infrastructure—which was overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in numerous deaths—might be helpful.
“Whether it’s in health systems or even the private sector, by the way — research and development — you can prepare for it,” he stated.
Transparency is crucial, which is another important lesson from COVID-19, according to Adalja.
“I think what we see now is this distrust between infectious disease physicians, public health practitioners and the general public, because what happened is politicians injected themselves into this,” he stated. “People may not actually be receptive to the protective actions that are being recommended by public health officials.”
According to Ghebreyesus, the WHO has already started taking steps to get ready for the next significant pandemic or epidemic in collaboration with other international organizations. Among these initiatives are the pandemic fund, which provides financial support to countries with sufficient resources; the mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, which guarantees vaccination equity for low-income countries; and the hub for pandemic and epidemic intelligence, which enhances international cooperative surveillance.