The Threat of Disease X

 


For the people who study disease outbreaks, there's always a fear that a new infection or outbreak that nobody knows about will catch us unaware.

There are literally thousands of unknown viruses circulating around the globe, and dozens of incurable diseases for the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) to worry about. As if this weren't enough, we have labs around the world that experiment on biological agents to make them more deadly – all it takes is for one of these pathogens to find a human host and we have a real situation in our hands.   

The World Health Organisation recently put out a blueprint highlighting their research on priority diseases, and as you might expect there were a lot of known threats like Ebola; but they also added what they see as a new global threat: Disease X.       

What is disease X?    

It is the unknown.

All the other diseases on the list are known conditions like the haemorrhagic fever Ebola, or other recent cases like SARS or Zika, but the WHO has reason to be worried.

Bacteria and viruses often mutate and become deadlier and more infectious, and there's always a risk that new diseases could jump from their host to humans.

If a new pathogen appears and causes a pandemic, it’s likely that we won't know how to react to it.      Like we've seen with other pathogens such as the Zika virus, we're not prepared to handle a global pandemic, and if such a disease struck today the effects would be catastrophic.

What can we expect from disease X?  

According to the WHO, disease X could turn out to be a mutation of a disease we don't yet consider serious. It's not unusual for a non-threatening disease to mutate.

As we saw with coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, even the most innocuous virus can evolve into a serious pandemic that kills thousands. Just like the Zika virus, these were considered relatively safe until they mutated and killed people.     

A Mutated Flu    

Virologists and other experts warn of a looming global pandemic that could possibly come from a mutated version of a known pathogen.

One of the most genuine threats we face is that of a mutated flu, and as we count a hundred years since the 1918 influenza pandemic, some people believe the next pandemic is overdue.

According to George Poste, a member of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel that focuses on Biodefense, and a fellow of the Harvard Medical School, a pandemic is inevitable in our generation.      

Our factory farm system might turn out to be the perfect breeding ground for renegade bacteria and viruses. We have so many birds and pigs being reared in the same space, and its possible that a bird flu can acquire genes that allow it to infect mammals like pigs - and humans.

The viruses that come out of that could one day infect humans on a pandemic scale.   To keep these kinds of threats manageable, we probably need a number of disease-monitoring organizations that focus on emerging threats and bioterrorism.

Remember, a new outbreak is going to happen at some point; it’s how we respond to it that matters. For now, disease X is still a talking point, but the World Health Organisation is warning us to stay alert and informed, just in case a pandemic hits.

Mayfair, we care

Global health 2017 scorecard: what have we achieved so far?



The beginning of every New Year comes with a promise of hope and concern.

 It was no different for 2017. New threats and new regimes promised to tug the world of global health in different and unknown directions. In fact, everyone is already feeling the road of change among us.

As the year wears on, the global health sector is filled with measured hope for progress and a huge air of uncertainty. Climate change, refugee crises, and global migration are also in the list of the things affecting the global state of health. If you come to think of it, the course of these three will come to affect the state of global health for many coming decades or centuries.

Three quarters of the way through the year is an appropriate moment to reflect on what 2017 has done to the state of health; have we achieved anything?

Alternatively, has complacency taken centre stage allowing apathy to set it? We look at some of the outstanding health issues that would objectively show the highs and lows facing the health sector in 2017.

The era of superbug

A Nevada woman visited India where she broke her thigh and got a bacterial infection. That was last summer. Back in Nevada, she went in for treatment. As the world knows it, antibiotics would stop the infection. But this time they did not.

 

Not just one type of antibiotics but rather the 26 of them available in the world today could not stop the bacterial infection.

As it came to be called in the medical corridors, this was a superbug. It could not be stopped by the extensive medicine arsenal the world has today. Sadly, these incurable infections are claiming 700,000 lives each year.

After the UN General Assembly recommended some ways to deal with the threat last September, this is yet to be put into action.

The perilous complacency around HIV

If it was possible for fatigue and progress to reproduce then they would surely call it Complacency?

The world has come far with HIV. You can now comfortably say treatment and management of the virus are at a better place. Dealing with stigma is no longer a big problem among victims and their families. The world has come to understand HIV. Great achievement you would say.

However, that is how far the good news goes about HIV. In a place like Namibia, HIV infection rate among women stand at 31%.

People no longer see HIV as a threat: they perceive it as a normal life condition. That is dangerous. Complacency has set it and the results are new infections that in a single swipe could take to drain all the achievement the world has had all these years.

Zika has settled in

Approximately a year ago, the World Health Organization declared a state of emergency for Zika virus. Surprisingly, 10 months later the emergency was lifted. Why? It is no longer a threat. No vaccine for Zika yet. The virus is not going away. Just like yellow fever and malaria, Zika is not going anywhere.

The world had better prepare because it is far from over with Zika.

A dead end for reproductive health

With new world leaders taking office in the last 12 months, reproductive health funding took a turn for the worse.

Bodies under the umbrella of better reproductive health have had to deal with constrained funding and bureaucracy in getting projects approved. The world is at a better place with very few maternal death rates, teen births and abortions. But the politics around reproductive health threatens to bring down all the achievements.

In summary

In terms of health, the world is at a better place in 2017 than the years before. New vaccines, continued research and societies that are more informed are some of the things to be proud of. However, complacency and bad politics threaten to wash away all that has been achieved. It is time humanity puts its best interests first and health is one of them.

And remember, Mayfair cares.