Disease X looms as potential global threat, can claim over 50 million lives: Experts

A healthcare worker designated for COVID testing outside hospital. [FPK File Photo/Zainab]

Health experts from around the world are sounding the alarm about a potential global pandemic referred to as “Disease X,” which could surpass the lethality of COVID and claim over 50 million lives, Daily Mail reported.

They warn that COVID might be just a precursor to more devastating pandemics in the future, the report said.

Dame Kate Bingham, who chaired the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, issued a grim warning that the next pandemic could claim at least 50 million lives, emphasising that the world had been fortunate that COVID was not more lethal.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has dubbed the anticipated next pandemic as “Disease X”, stating that it might already be “on its way”.

COVID, which emerged in 2019, has already claimed the lives of nearly seven million people globally, according to WHO data.

Dame Kate Bingham cautioned that Disease X could prove to be more than seven times as deadly as COVID-19. She also said that the next pandemic might originate from an existing virus.

Drawing parallels with the catastrophic 1918–19 flu pandemic that killed over 50 million people, she said, “Today, we could expect a similar death toll from one of the many viruses that already exist. Today, there are more viruses busily replicating and mutating than all the other life forms on our planet combined.”

“Not all of them pose a threat to humans, of course – but plenty do,” she added while speaking to the Daily Mail.

She said scientists are monitoring 25 virus families, each consisting of thousands of individual viruses, any of which could mutate into a severe pandemic. This surveillance does not account for viruses that may jump from animals to humans.

“With COVID, the vast majority of people infected with the virus managed to recover,” Dame Kate said. “Imagine Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola, which is 67 percent. Somewhere in the world, it’s replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick,” she said.

Meanwhile, UK scientists have already initiated vaccine development efforts targeting an unidentified ‘Disease X.’

The research, conducted at the high-security Porton Down laboratory complex in Wiltshire, involves over 200 scientists.

Their focus is on animal viruses with the potential to infect humans and spread rapidly worldwide. Among the pathogens under scrutiny are bird flu, monkeypox, and hantavirus, which is transmitted by rodents.

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), stressed that factors such as climate change and population shifts are increasing the likelihood of future pandemics. He emphasized the need for proactive preparedness measures.

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