30th September 2023 – (London) Renowned British health expert Kate Bingham has issued a serious warning about the potential threat of Disease X, a term coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), stating that it could unleash a more deadly global pandemic than Covid-19. In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Bingham, who chaired the U.K.’s Vaccine Taskforce from May to December 2020, drew parallels between Disease X and the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919-1920. She emphasised that Disease X could emerge as a novel agent, such as a virus, bacterium, or fungus, for which there are currently no known treatments.
Expressing her concerns, Bingham stated, “Let me be clear: the 1918-19 flu pandemic claimed the lives of at least 50 million people worldwide, twice the number of casualties from World War I. Today, we could potentially witness a similar death toll caused by one of the numerous existing viruses.”
To effectively combat the looming threat of Disease X, Bingham stressed the urgent need for widespread vaccination campaigns, requiring the rapid delivery of vaccines on an unprecedented scale.
Furthermore, the expert highlighted that while scientists have identified 25 virus families, there could be over a million undiscovered variants capable of cross-species transmission.
“In a way, we were fortunate with COVID-19, despite the fact that it caused over 20 million deaths globally. The majority of individuals infected with the virus managed to recover… Imagine if Disease X is as contagious as measles but with the fatality rate of Ebola. Somewhere in the world, it is likely replicating, and sooner or later, someone will start falling ill,” cautioned Bingham.
Bingham pointed out that diseases like Ebola, bird flu, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) have already claimed numerous lives, with Ebola boasting a fatality rate of approximately 67 per cent. She emphasised that it would be unwise to assume that the next pandemic could be easily contained.
Explaining the surge in pandemics, Bingham identified the consequences of living in a modern world. Factors such as globalization facilitating interconnectedness and the rapid urbanisation leading to increased human proximity are contributing to the rise in outbreaks. Additionally, deforestation, modern agricultural practices, and the destruction of wetlands are enabling the transmission of viruses across species.
The WHO first mentioned Disease X on its website in May, highlighting its potential to trigger a severe global epidemic caused by an as-yet-unknown pathogen capable of infecting humans. Bingham’s warning serves as a call to action, urging global preparedness and collaboration to prevent and mitigate the potential devastation of Disease X.
According to Dr Neha Rastogi, Consultant, infectious disease, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, Disease X is a potentially dangerous illness that may be caused by a pathogen known as “pathogen X.” It is likely to be a zoonotic disease, possibly an RNA virus, originating from an environment where the conditions favour sustained transmission among hosts. These emerging or re-emerging zoonotic pathogens, labelled as X, pose a significant threat that requires continuous active surveillance and monitoring. There is speculation about the possibility of Syndrome X being an engineered pandemic pathogen, either resulting from accidental laboratory incidents or bioterrorism. The expert warns that Disease X could have catastrophic global consequences and emphasises the importance of containment and mitigation strategies, including international guidelines to control bioterrorism, travel restrictions, airport screening, and collaboration among global leaders, scientists, epidemiologists, and infectious disease experts. Dr. Rastogi suggests that widespread testing, surveillance, and aggressive contact tracing are effective tools to contain outbreaks. Furthermore, there is a need to accelerate research and development of medical measures such as test kits, vaccines, and first aid, with a focus on preventive measures and vaccine development. The expert concludes by stressing the importance of a One Health approach, which addresses institutional gaps, identifies priority risks and alerts pathogens, and emphasises mitigation strategies to prevent global catastrophes caused by emerging and re-emerging pathogens, including potential Disease X.