Disease X' Added to the WHO R&D Blueprint List

The WHO says the next big outbreak will be something we have not seen before

Scientists warn that an unknown "Disease X" poses a major health risk and could cause a "serious worldwide epidemic" in the future.

The best way of thinking about it is that "Disease X" is a placeholder for a contagious hazard we haven't encountered yet, but which is virtually certain. Contenders are weighed primarily on their potential to rapidly epidemics of huge proportions, even global pandemics, as well as the real-life damage they have proven capable of.

The R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable R&D preparedness that is relevant for an unknown "Disease X". However, it also warned that these pathogens still pose a serious risk to public health, and should be "watched carefully".

The Blueprint list is maintained for the objective of research and development where World Health Organization has developed a special tool to determine which diseases require immediate attention on research and development.

This tool seeks to identify those diseases that pose a public health risk due to their epidemic potential and for which there are no, or insufficient, countermeasures.

In previous years, the listing was made up of viruses that had seen outbreaks in recent years, such as Ebola, Zika, Lassa fever, or Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

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World Health Organization sent out its first list of prioritised diseases in December 2015. According to WHO, "Disease X" will be caused by a pathogen which is not yet identified to cause human diseases.

"It may seem unusual to be adding an "X" but the point is make sure we prepare and plan flexibly in terms of vaccines and diagnostic tests".

As for where Disease X could come from, nobody knows for sure, but there a multitude of possible sources, including existing viruses that demonstrate new virulence and symptoms (such as Zika virus), engineered viruses escaped from laboratories or used as bioweapons, and zoonotic infections transferred from animals to humans. "It is probably the greatest risk", said Mr Rottingen.

The WHO hopes to improve disease surveillance and the capacity of local health systems, which would help to detect an outbreak quickly. This disease could also be hatched by big events like a terrorist act, or smaller incidences like auto accidents.

The WHO says it omitted several groups of diseases, such as hemorrhagic fevers and emergent non-polio enteroviruses from its priority list.

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