Mystery 'disease X' warnings from WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about a mysterious disease X that is caused by a virus and can cause a worldwide pandemic in the near future. WHO has come up with a list of diseases that can cause an outbreak or epidemic among the general population, mainly because of the lack of resources for fighting them.

The report comes after the committee convened in Geneva at the WHO headquarters 6th and 7th of February. They wanted to list out the pathogens that are likely to affect and kill a large population globally in the near future. The committee consisted of leaders in virology, bacteriology and infectious diseases. The first list of these priority illnesses was released in December 2015.

The WHO says that diseases such as Ebola, Zika, Lassa fever as well as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have all caused outbreaks in the past few years. Each of these outbreaks have been difficult to combat. There is a new disease called “Disease X” that has been added to the list of these serious threats. The report comes this February warning the public of the major threats worldwide.

The WHO statement says, “Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.” They statement said that research and development was underway to be prepared for disease X “as far as possible.”

John-Arne Rottingen, chief executive of the Research Council of Norway and a scientific adviser to the WHO committee says that the next big outbreak is going to be something that the scientists have not seen before. He added that preparedness meant being ready with appropriate diagnostic tests as well as preventive vaccines. He added that “plug and play” platforms would be the best answer. The systems would generate “countermeasures” to any of these illnesses as soon as they break out.

Rottingen added that most likely cause of spread of this new disease would be animal borne or zoonotic. The disease may spread from animals to humans similar to Ebola, HIV and salmonella. The jumps from animals to humans happen as their ecosystems clash and the animals lose their habitats he said. Around 70 percent of the recently known diseases that affect populations are known to be zoonoses.

According to the WHO statement, several diseases have been dropped from the priority list this year. This includes hemorrhagic fevers and non-polio enteroviruses. These may however soon be included in the list, the agency said.

The diseases on the priority list include “Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipaviral diseases, Rift Valley fever (RVF), Zika and Disease X.” Other possible new inclusions in the future include, “Arenaviral hemorrhagic fevers other than Lassa Fever; Chikungunya; highly pathogenic coronaviral diseases other than MERS and SARS; emergent non-polio enteroviruses (including EV71, D68); and Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS).” Monkeypox and Leptospirosis were also discussed in details.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Ndudiri Chikere Ndudiri Chikere Nigeria says:

    All hands must be on Deck.
    As the researchers are busy with their findings on a way out to ensure we have a disease - free world, the healthcare providers should maintain a global best practice.
    It baffles me that most hospitals and clinics are still substandard in this era. Most hospitals still lack the basic Equipment and Devices needed.
    WHO is doing great but should set up a standard for evey hospital and a monitoring team to investigate those that didn't meet up to the standard.
    If 60% of the hospitals in every country should be on a standard level with the necessary equipment and devices, it will fasten the immediate attention and solutions when needed because many lives have been lost due to lack of the basic Equipment in most hospitals.

  2. sss
    Nisha Mehta Nisha Mehta India says:


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