Representative Image. (Credits: AP)
NEW DELHI: The scientists who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976 has warned against an unknown number of new and potentially fatal viruses faced by humanity among which is 'Disease X'.
"We are now in a world where new pathogens will come out," said Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who helped discover the Ebola virus in 1976. In an interview with CNN, Muyembe said, "And that's what constitutes a threat for humanity."
Muyembe's statement comes on the heels of a patient being infected by a pathogen that has not yet been identified but had symptoms similar to Ebola.
In a remote town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), last month a woman showed early signs of hemorrhagic fever. Her samples were tested for Ebola and other diseases with similar symptoms.
All came back negative making the disease which affected the woman a mystery.
Scientists speculated if she could be the patient zero of "Disease X" the first known infection of a new pathogen that, researchers say could be more contagious than the Covid-19 and with Ebola's 50 per cent to 90 per cent fatality rate.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its global plan for accelerating research and development during health emergencies and also included "Disease X" in its '2018 R&D Blueprint'.
The 2018 R&D Blueprint prioritized nine diseases for R&D which consists of 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 disease, Rift Valley fever, Zika and the latest addition “Disease X”.
All these diseases lack an effective drug or vaccine.
What is Disease X?
"X" stands for unexpected, explained Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
WHO said that it "represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease."
As of now, Disease X remains hypothetical, an outbreak that scientists and public health experts fear could lead to serious disease around the world if and when it occurs.
Speaking to CNN, Muyembe warned of many more zoonotic diseases -- those that jump from animals to humans -- to come.
Zoonotic diseases like yellow fever, rabies, brucellosis and Lyme disease spread from animals to human beings and have caused epidemics and pandemics before. While the deadly HIV emerged from a type of Chimpanzee and then mutated into a fatal disease, SARS-CoV-2, along with SARS, and MERS are all coronaviruses that have suddenly jumped from animals to humans.
(With inputs from agencies)