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.

Lethal Virus Experiments – What Could Go Wrong?

The federal government recently lifted a ban on funding experiments that deal with lethal viruses. Work focused on altering germs to make them more dangerous can now proceed, “but only if a scientific panel decides that the benefits justify the risks.

Some scientists are eager to pursue these studies because they may show, for example, how a bird flu could mutate to more easily infect humans, or could yield clues to making a better vaccine…

The pathogen to be modified must pose a serious health threat, and the work must produce knowledge — such as a vaccine — that would benefit humans. Finally, there must be no safer way to do the research…

Critics say these researchers risk creating a monster germ that could escape the lab and seed a pandemic.

If you think this sounds like the start of the next 28 Days Later movie, you may be right. Now is a good time to brush up on your “In Case of Super Contagious Disease Outbreak” plans and it wouldn’t hurt to consider a “Zombie Plan of Action” as well. The CDC has you covered:

Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

“Post-Antibiotic Apocalypse”

Forget about preparing for zombie outbreaks. Well, not completely, for obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are that I believe it’s only a matter of time before 28 Days Later becomes a reality, but it’s not worth the energy worrying about. Instead, we should all worry about “the end of modern medicine” as we know it. Increasing antibiotic resistance means not being able to treat what we consider today to be regular, run of the mill infections. It means all surgery, c-sections, cancer treatments, and transplants become potentially lethal.

An article in The Guardian notes:

Each year about 700,000 people around the world die due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke recently at a symposium at Harvard Business School. He says the spread of antibiotic resistance is caused by several things:

Rampant overprescribing, to the widespread use of the drugs to promote livestock growth, and to the relative trickle of new drugs being developed as possible replacements…

The greatest antibiotic use — 70 percent — is in livestock, and more than half of that isn’t because the animals are sick, but for “growth promotion” in crowded settings….

The slow pace of drug development is largely due to poor economic incentives. Antibiotics tend to be inexpensive and taken by patients for a relatively short time, so there is less demand for them than for drugs for chronic conditions. Further, new antibiotics are used more sparingly so they will remain effective when resistance develops to other drugs, a strategy that, while sound from a public health standpoint, does not boost profits.

Drug companies, eager to unethically make as much money as possible, are in on the 28 Days Later plot. Oops, I mean drug companies should reconsider their strategy because if everyone dies no one is going to buy their drugs anyway.

On an more uplifting note, Halloween is coming up! This is a good time for everyone to watch or re-watch 28 Days Later, as well as the darker sequel 28 Weeks Later (or your favorite zombie-pandemic movie). Just be careful you don’t watch 28 Days instead, which I have accidentally done before.