Disease X: How UK virus hunters are tracking down viruses sweeping Britain


Disease X is a term used to describe a disease which might one day develop into a deadly pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Disease X “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease”. The possibility of a crisis developing in the background remains a frightening prospect, leading people to seek out Disease X candidates and eliminate them before they have the chance to spread. The WHO has included Disease X on its list of “blueprint priority diseases”.

Featured in this list is a selection of eight pathogens which could cause a “public health emergency”.

WHO deals with world threats, so monitored pathogens are of international importance.

They include:

– Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF)

– 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 (RVF)

– Zika

– Disease X

While the WHO has been at work monitoring global threats, Public Health England has drawn up a list of “novel” pathogens which have entered the UK.

The health authority revealed earlier this month it had identified 12 of these infections in the UK over the past 10 years.

PHE has flagged viruses which have travelled to the UK from other countries, including monkeypox, ebola and the zika virus.

Others include Anthrax, which officials have identified as a possible weapon for biological warfare, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

READ MORE: Monkey pox virus: Monkeypox vaccine to go ahead one year after UK case

These are the “novel” diseases PHE has identified in the UK over the past 12 years:

– Pandemic swine flu

– Anthrax

– Tularemia

– Saint Louis encephalitis

– Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever

– Middle East respiratory virus syndrome

– Rift Valley fever

– Candida auris

– Choclo hantavirus

– Ebola

– Zika virus

– Monkeypox

Of these pathogens, very few are still active in the UK, as they are often self-limiting and difficult to transmit.

Swine flu, which made rounds as a pandemic in 2009, is still in circulation, however.

The first swine flu outbreak killed more than 200 people when it swept the planet 10 years ago, but it is now a seasonal flu variation.

Monkeypox made headlines in the UK last year as a potential threat which was quickly contained.


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