What is Disease X?

Forget about preparing for zombie outbreaks. We should all be preparing for Disease X instead. Each year the WHO meets to create a list of diseases that pose a serious international public health risk “because of their epidemic potential and for which there are no, or insufficient, countermeasures.”

Many of the diseases listed are routine players, such at Ebola, Lassa Fever, SARS, and Zika. But this year, the WHO added “Disease X.” According to the WHO, “Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease…”

John-Arne Rottingen, a scientific adviser to the WHO committee says:

“Disease X could be be sparked by a zoonotic disease – one that jumps from animals to humans – and then spreads to become an epidemic or pandemic in the same way H1N1 Swine flu virus did in 2009…As the ecosystem and human habitats change there is always the risk of disease jumping from animals to humans. It’s a natural process and it is vital that we are aware and prepare. It is probably the greatest risk.”

So what does the WHO recommend? Sure, worrying helplessly might seem fun, but they suggest better diagnostics, existing drugs & vaccine improvements, and more research.They do not explicitly suggest a zombie preparedness kit, but you could certainly use your imagination for what Disease X may turn out to be, and plan accordingly.

A “Just in Case” Vaccine?

Government agencies will need to decide soon weather or not a vaccine for the H1N1 virus will be needed this coming fall.  If the virus fades, millions of dollars and resources would be wasted.  Obviously, on the other hand, if the virus comes back in the fall stronger and deadlier, protection from it wouldn’t be available.  A related question is weather the H1N1 virus even warrants its own vaccine.

“If [the U.S.] decided to make the vaccine investment, the administration would have to make a stronger case, at some point, why a disease that caused two deaths and less than 500 cases in the U.S. in a two-week period — with a risk not greater than seasonal flu — would warrant the multibillion dollar investment, versus other prevalent diseases such as hepatitis, cancer or [cardiovascular disease] that each caused dozens of thousand deaths and affects millions of Americans each year.”

In addition to all that, many people are wary of vaccine programs such as this after the fiasco in 1976.  A small outbreak of swine flu was discovered at the Fort Dix Army Base, prompting fear that another epidemic (such as the massive one in 1918) was on the way.  The government undertook a massive vaccination program that turned out pretty horribly:

“Within days reports emerged that the vaccine appeared to increase the risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes temporary paralysis but can be fatal.

Waiting in long lines at schools and clinics, more than 40 million Americans — almost 25% of the population — received the swine flu vaccine before the program was halted…after 10 weeks.

More than 500 people are thought to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the vaccine; 25 died. No one completely understands the causes of Guillain-Barre, but the condition can develop after a bout with infection or following surgery or vaccination. The federal government paid millions in damages to people or their families.”

On top of all that, the pandemic never even materialized!

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