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What Is 'Disease X' That An African Woman Got Infected With & Why Is Everyone Talking About It?

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In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there is an increase in the level of understanding that there are unknown threats to the humankind that can lead to the next pandemic. 'Disease X' is representative of that unknown factor. The X-factor of this disease is that everything about it is unknown. It is not technically a "disease" but is an area of research for scientists studying possibilities of the next pandemic.  Representative pictureA recent CNN report quoted Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, as saying that new deadly viruses were set to hit mankind. He went on to add that there are new and potentially fatal viruses emerging from Africa's tropical rainforests. Why is it in news?A woman, in a remote town of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa, recently showed symptoms of haemorrhagic fever. She was tested for several diseases -- including Ebola -- but all the test reports came back negative. Scientists fear that this could be a symptom of a potentially new and fatal virus. This rare situation sparked fear amid speculations -- what if the woman was patient zero of 'Disease X'?  AFP"We've all got to be frightened," the woman's physician, Dr Dadin Bonkole was quoted in reports as telling a US news channel. "We have to be afraid of new diseases" as Ebola and COVID-19 were both unknown before they were discovered, she said. This new infection could be more fateful than Ebola and COVID-19, Prof. Tamfum said. His statement is since doing round in world media, raising several questions if this "Disease X" is indeed a new disease.  (Representative Image: DPA)Prof. Tamfum also cautioned that many more zoonotic diseases, specifically those that get transmitted from animals to humans, could arise in the future. He stated that diseases -- namely influenza, rabies, and yellow fever -- have all jumped from animals to humans. These "occurrences are common and could lead to epidemics and pandemics in the future", he said.  Reuters According to the CNN, since yellow fever -- the first animal-to-human infection -- was identified in 1901, scientists have found at least another 200 viruses that can cause disease in humans. Experts say that the rising number of emerging viruses is largely the result of ecological destruction and wildlife trade, the CNN report said. Is it a new disease? Disease X is definitely not a new disease but a potential disease that is yet to be discovered. Disease X is a placeholder name adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2018.It is not a newly discovered threat, but a hypothetical disease, which could emerge in the future and cause an outbreak/epidemic/pandemic.  GettyThe organization mentions "Disease X" on a shortlist of pathogens considered to be a "blueprint priority diseases" for research. "X" in Disease X stands for unexpected, a top doctor had told CNN once. But why a "top priority" when it is still unknown?It is because of what the name "Disease X" represents: "the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a [unknown, hypothetical] pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease", the WHO explains.Besides this Disease X, other viruses -- some of them now-well-known deadly viruses -- on WHO's current priority list are: Covid-19, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, 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 and Zika. UnsplashAfter listing the 10 diseases, the WHO clarifies: "This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it indicate the most likely causes of the next epidemic. WHO reviews and updates this list as needs arise, and methodologies change. Based on the priority diseases, WHO then works to develop R&D roadmaps for each one."
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there is an increase in the level of understanding that there are unknown threats to the humankind that can lead to the next pandemic.

'Disease X' is representative of that unknown factor. The X-factor of this disease is that everything about it is unknown. It is not technically a "disease" but is an area of research for scientists studying possibilities of the next pandemic.

Representative picture

A recent CNN report quoted Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, as saying that new deadly viruses were set to hit mankind. He went on to add that there are new and potentially fatal viruses emerging from Africa's tropical rainforests.

Why is it in news?

A woman, in a remote town of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa, recently showed symptoms of haemorrhagic fever. She was tested for several diseases -- including Ebola -- but all the test reports came back negative. Scientists fear that this could be a symptom of a potentially new and fatal virus.

This rare situation sparked fear amid speculations -- what if the woman was patient zero of 'Disease X'?

AFP

"We've all got to be frightened," the woman's physician, Dr Dadin Bonkole was quoted in reports as telling a US news channel. "We…
Gursharan Bhalla
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