Kate Bingham, former Chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, has underscored the gravity of the threat posed by Disease X, drawing parallels to the catastrophic Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919-1920, which claimed the lives of over 50 million people worldwide. Disease X, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), represents an unidentified pathogen, whether viral, bacterial, or fungal, for which no known treatments exist. Ms. Bingham expressed profound concern, emphasizing the potential for a death toll reminiscent of the Spanish Flu in the event of a Disease X outbreak.
She stressed the imperative need for global readiness achieved through large-scale vaccination campaigns conducted at an unprecedented pace. Additionally, Ms. Bingham presented a daunting prospect, revealing that scientists have identified 25 virus families, but there may be over a million undiscovered variants with the capability to cross species boundaries, posing a grave threat to human health.
Reflecting on the ongoing pandemic, she noted that while COVID-19 has resulted in significant casualties, the majority of infected individuals have managed to recover. In contrast, Disease X could combine the infectiousness of measles with the fatality rate of Ebola, potentially causing widespread devastation.
Ms. Bingham shed light on the contributing factors behind the surge in pandemics, citing globalization, urbanization, and environmental factors such as deforestation, modern farming practices, and wetland degradation. These elements have facilitated the transmission of viruses between species, heightening the risk of emerging novel pathogens.
The concept of Disease X was initially introduced by the WHO in 2018, emphasizing the potential for a severe global epidemic caused by an as-yet-unknown pathogen. In May, the organization prominently featured Disease X on its website, serving as a chilling reminder of the lurking threat, which became starkly evident with the global spread of COVID-19 just a year later.