Since 2018, a certain “disease X” can be found on a list of the WHO for dangerous and little researched pathogens. The explosive thing about it: the disease does not yet exist and initially only serves as a concept. Various theories are circulating about the origin of the pathogen. The flu could also play a role.
The Robert Koch Institute RKI recorded almost 23,900 confirmed cases of flu in the third week of February this year. This was announced by the Influenza Working Group. With almost 60,000 sick people in the current season, the extent of the current flu wave in Germany is enormous. In the 2017/2018 season there were a total of 333,567 sick people.
The flu wave hits us again every year. And every year it kills countless people. In the 2017/18 season, 1,674 deaths with influenza infection were reported to the RKI. The flu is repeatedly triggered by new forms of influenza viruses. The vaccines therefore have to be adjusted every time. For most, the flu is harmless. But what if it spreads into an epidemic?
“Illness X” only serves as a concept
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been publishing a list of potential diseases and pathogens that could trigger a pandemic every year since 2015 . In other words, a disease that spreads across countries and continents. The viruses are classified as very dangerous and there are as yet no or insufficient therapies to combat them.
In addition to Ebola, Lassa fever, Zika virus and Crimean-Congo fever, the WHO has listed a “disease X” for the first time since 2018 . This is representative of a pathogen that is still unknown and which, according to speculations, could take a devastating course. The purpose of the list is to stimulate and develop research into suitable drugs and vaccines for the potential pathogens.
Previous epidemics caused by influenza viruses
Past pandemics such as the plague or Ebola claimed the lives of countless people. The last time an influenza epidemic raged between 1918 and 1920 was caused by the Spanish flu virus. Almost 50 million people died worldwide, a staggering five percent of the world’s population.
The peculiarity of these viruses was that healthy young people in particular fell ill with the flu. Researchers believe that the pathogens influenced the immune system in such a way that it worked against its own body. So the stronger the immune system, the more devastating the effects. They published their findings in 2004 in the “Journal of Virology” .
Are influenza viruses the trigger for “disease X”?
Several theories are circulating about the origin of “disease X”. One of them explains John-Arne Rottingen, he is executive director of the Norwegian Research Council and scientific advisor to the WHO committee. Rottingen told the British “Telegraph” : He assumed that the mysterious disease of pathogens could develop from an already existing disease. For example, as a mutation of aggressive influenza viruses.
Most likely, “X” is also a virus that is transmitted from animals to humans. Avian influenza or avian influenza could also be considered as a possible starting point for “disease X”. When infected with avian influenza viruses, this usually leads to the death of the infected bird species. In individual cases, some variants of the pathogen have also been transmitted to humans.
As yet unknown viruses as a trigger for disease “X”
Another theory sees the threat to mankind in an unprecedented type of virus. According to this, “disease X” is caused by a form of pathogen that is still completely unknown, but is also transmitted from animals to humans. This could be structured in such a way that it can easily be transmitted from person to person, says Jonathan Quick, chairman of the US Global Health Council, the British “Daily Star” .
In order to be prepared for such an unpredictable disease as “X” in the event of a problem, the WHO included the mysterious pathogen in its catalog. Since last year, the Global Virome Project has been working on the listing of all potential infectious viruses for humans. We already know about 260 of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 pathogens.