London: A UK health expert has said that Disease X, the name given by World Health Organisation (WHO), can cause another pandemic deadlier than Covid-19. In an interview to Daily Mail, Kate Bingham, who served as the chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce from May to December 2020, said the new virus could have a similar impact to the devastating Spanish Flu of 1919-1920. According to WHO, Disease X could be a new agent – a virus, a bacterium or fungus – without any known treatments.
Expressing her concern, Bingham said, “Let me put it this way: the 1918-19 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide, twice as many as were killed in World War I. Today, we could expect a similar death toll from one of the many viruses that already exist.”
If the world has to tackle the threat from Disease X, “the world will have to prepare for mass vaccination drives and deliver the doses in record time”, she told the Daily Mail.
The expert further said that scientists have identified 25 virus families, but there could be more than one million undiscovered variants, which may be able to jump from one species to another.
“In a sense, we got lucky with Covid-19, despite the fact that it caused 20 million or more deaths across the world. The point is that the vast majority of people infected with the virus managed to recover… Imagine Disease X is as infectious as measles with the fatality rate of Ebola. Somewhere in the world, it’s replicating, and sooner or later, somebody will start feeling sick,” said Ms Bingham.
Ebola had a fatality rate of around 67 per cent, and she added that others like bird flu and MERS also killed a large number of people. “So we certainly can’t bank on the next pandemic being easily contained.”
Bingham also explained why the number of pandemics are increasing.
“The increase in outbreaks is the price we’re having to pay for living in the modern world. First, it’s increasingly connected through globalisation. Second, more and more people are cramming into cities, where they often come into close contact with others,” said Ms Bingham.
And viruses are jumping from one species to another because of deforestation, modern agricultural methods and the destruction of wetlands.
WHO first mentioned about Disease X on its website in May.
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It said that the term “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease”.
The WHO started using the term in 2018. And a year later, Covid-19 began to spread across the world.