Researchers have become increasingly worried that the next pandemic could be just around the corner, despite the world still being in the throes of COVID.
What is Disease X?
Every year since 2015, the World Health Organization has published a list of diseases that could hit the entire planet in the months and years to come. As Sciences et Avenir explains, the point of this is:
...to know which diseases to focus on in order to accelerate research and the development of effective surveillance, diagnostic procedures, and treatment.
Disease X', was a term coined three years ago by WHO scientists who believe that an unknown illness will inevitably strike. But how it will manifest itself? Deadly disease experts know nothing about Disease X as yet, except for the fact that it will spread across the world one day. Epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, of the WHO health emergencies program, explained last June that 'the question now is not whether there will be a next pathogen but when.'
Ebola, Zika, and Covid-19 have all at some point been disease X, an illness we didn't know yet that was about to break out.
A World Economic Forum that took place back in December highlighted:
Covid-19 is not the last health emergency. Instead, it is likely that humanity will see a pandemic or health emergency at least once every five years. We may not be able to avoid this risk entirely, but we can mitigate the fallout.
A nightmare scenario
Some believe that the next Disease X will be a zoonotic disease, one being passed from animals to humans, similar to coronavirus which is thought to be passed from animals such as bats. The nightmare scenario here is that one of the many viruses or strains that have the potential to be passed to humans could also be highly contagious and highly deadly, leading Disease X to be on the same scale as the Black Plague, which caused as many as 75 million deaths.
Out of the 1.67 million unknown diseases currently in the world, EcoHealth Alliance predicts that 827,000 of these could potentially be transmitted to humans. A study recently published by Nature Communications also identifies South East Asia, South and Central Africa as well as Central American countries surrounding the Amazon to be of the highest risk. This risk is made worse as people continue to move into the habitats of animals. Dr. Josef Settele, of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research, and one of the co-authors of a UN-level study on future pandemics spoke to The Sun Online revealing:
Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people. This often occurs in areas where communities live that are most vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Already harmful practises such as deforestation and even wet markets are causing diseases to be transferred to people. In India, farmers expanding their and into the forest now risk contracting Kyasanur forest disease, otherwise known as Monkey Fever. The disease, which has a 10% fatality rate for people, has been spreading to humans since 2012 through infected ticks and contact with infected animals. Other viruses that can spread to people are that of the Hendra Disease, an Australian disease that reared its ugly head in 1994 and can spread from bats to horses to humans. Additionally, Lujo Fever emerged in South Africa in 2008, and while the disease has only infected five patients so far, it has a fatality rate of 80%.