The World Health Organisation put the world into a bit of spin this past week when it announced the inclusion of ‘Disease X’ on its annual update of priority diseases.
Featuring eight other deadly diseases like Ebola and Lassa fever, the WHO Research and Development Blueprint list was designed as a way to prioritise diseases as ones researchers and governments should focus on developing treatments and vaccines for.
These diseases are on the list due to their potential to become an “epidemic” with insufficient current “countermeasures” such as treatments or vaccines.
So it’s no wonder that people were alarmed to see a previously unheard of disease with a Zombie movie-esque name like Disease X on the list.
It even prompted headlines like: ‘Disease X could be the world’s next epidemic’ and ‘Deadly new epidemic could kill millions, scientists warn’.
But is Disease X really the huge, terrifying threat to humanity it’s been made out to be?
Well, no. Not exactly.
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What the sensationalist headlines leave out and what some media outlets seem to have misunderstood is that Disease X isn’t even a disease at all. It does not exist.
The WHO made it clear on their website that Disease X has been included on the R&D Blueprint list to represent diseases that do not exist or have not been discovered yet.
“Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” the website states. “And so the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown ‘Disease X’ as far as possible.”
Infectious disease expert Sanjaya Senanayake explained this means the WHO is trying to make sure that governments and scientists around the world are prepared for a non-specific epidemic event caused by a disease of any kind.
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