NO ONE IS SAFE Disease X outbreak that could ‘kill 80 million’ is ‘on the horizon’ – and scientists need help

AN outbreak of so-called Disease X is “on the horizon” and could kill 80 million, World Health Organisation (WHO) experts have warned.

Scientists are looking for vaccines that could combat the as-yet-unknown infectious diseases and unknown pathogens.

This graphic from a recent report shows global examples of emerging and re-emerging diseases

Last month, a panel led by the ex-chief of the WHO, released a stark report warning of the danger of a lethal respiratory pathogen, which they say could kill between 50 and 80 million people.

The 15 public health leaders criticised a “cycle of panic and neglect” which they say has characterised responses to health emergencies.

Funding for vaccines

Now, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said it was looking for funding applications for platforms capable of developing vaccines to combat the threat.

Richard Hatchett, CEO of the CEPI, said: “We can be sure that another epidemic is on the horizon. It is not a case of if, but when.

“We need to be prepared. We need to invest in platform technologies that can be used to quickly respond to the emergence of a pathogen with epidemic potential.

We can be sure that another epidemic is on the horizon. It is not a case of if, but when

Richard HatchettCEPI

“That’s why CEPI is boosting its funding for such platform technologies that can be used to make vaccines and other immunoprophylactics in a matter of weeks and months, instead of years, which is currently the case.”

The calls add to the £42 million ($54 million) the organisation has already committed on a guarding against the spread.

Since 1980, outbreaks of infectious diseases have increased from 1,000 to 3,000 in 2010.

Hatchett added: “Our criteria are broad, and the call is open for 12 months, in the hope that we’re able to attract the best and brightest ideas from around the world.

“If we succeed in this endeavour, we will be able to equip humanity with the tools to combat Disease X and create a world in which epidemics are no longer a threat.”


In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified Disease X as more deadly than Ebola and Lassa fever.

According to a recent report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, such a pandemic could wipe out between 50 and 80 million people, as well as five percent of the global economy.

The report added that as the world has become increasingly interconnected, such a pathogen could spread around the globe within 36 to 50 hours.

While some governments and agencies have made efforts to prepare for disease outbreaks since the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that left over 10,000 dead, those efforts are “grossly insufficient,” the report said.

Newly emerging diseases by continent


  • Cryptosporidiosis – an intestinal disease caused by microscopic parasites
  • E.coli O104:H4 – a strain of bacteria that caused outbreak in Germany in 2011
  • Variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD) – brain disease caused by eating infected beef

North America

  • Enterovirus D68 – group of viruses that can cause polio and hand, food and mouth disease
  • Heartland virus – viral disease spread by infected tick bites
  • Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome – severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease caused by infected rodents
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • H3N2v influenza – strain of flu that started in pigs
  • Cyclosporiasis –  intestinal illness caused by microscopic parasites
  • E. coli O157:H7 – form of the bacteria
  • 2009 H1N1 influenza – swine flu
  • Bourbon virus – understood to be spread through tick or insect bite

South America

  • Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome


  • Human monkeypox – similar to smallpox transmitted from rodents or primates
  • Ebola virus
  • Zika virus
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis C


  • Akhmeta virus (AKMV) – a form of pox virus
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – viral respiratory disease, sometimes known as camel flu
  • Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome Bunyavirus (SFTSV) – a type of haemorrhagic fever
  • E. coli O157:H7 – strain of bacteria
  • H5N6 influenza – strain of bird flu
  • H10N8 influenza – strain of bird flu
  • H7N9 influenza – strain of bird flu
  • H5N1 influenza – strain of bird flu
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – outbreaks in 2002 and 2004
  • Nipah virus – transmitted from animals, contaminated food or directly between infected people


  • Hendra virus – virus that infects large fruit bats that can be passed to horses and people

Re-emerging/re-surging diseases by continent


North America

  • Powassan virus – brain infection transmitted by ticks
  • West Nile virus – disease spread through mosquitoes
  • Measles
  • Human monkey-pox – similar to smallpox transmitted from rodents or primates
  • Listeriosis – bacterial infection that can cause sepsis, brain infection and death
  • Adenovirus 14 – acute respiratory illness dubbed the killer cold virus
  • Lyme disease – bacterial infection spread by ticks
  • MDR/XDR tuberculosis – drug-resistant tuberculosis
  • Chikungunya – virus is spread by infected mosquito bite
  • Acute flaccid myelitis – polio-like condition that affects the nervous system
  • Dengue fever – mosquito-borne tropical disease
  • Cholera – infection that causes severe diarrhoea caused by drinking contaminated water
  • Antimicrobial resistant threats:
    • CRE
    • MRSA
    • C. difficile
    • N. gonorrhoeae

South America

  • Zika virus
  • Cholera
  • Drug-resistant malaria
  • Yellow fever – viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes


  • Diphtheria – highly contagious infection that can affect the nose, throat and skin
  • Typhoid fever – bacterial infection that can spread throughout the body, affecting many organs
  • MDR/XDR tuberculosis
  • Nipah virus
  • Cholera
  • Enterovirus 71
  • Drug-resistant malaria


  • Yellow fever
  • Ebola virus
  • Lassa fever – viral haemorrhagic illness transmitted from contact with bodily fluids of infected person
  • MDR/XDR tuberculosis
  • Chloera
  • Rift Valley fever – viral disease spread through contact with infected animals
  • Drug-resistant malaria
  • Plague – caused by bacteria usually found in small mammals and their fleas
  • Human African trypanosomiasis – insect-borne parasitic disease, also known as sleeping sickness
  • Marburg virus

In the case of a pandemic, many national health systems – particularly in poor countries – would collapse.

The WHO also warned earlier this year that another pandemic of flu – which is caused by airborne viruses – is inevitable, and said the world should prepare for it.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board’s report cited the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people.

Studies have shown most of the fatalities were among those under the age of 65.

The virus is thought to have used the body’s own immune system to work against it.

This caused fatal “cytokine storms” in victims – an overproduction of immune cells that can overwhelm the body.

The stronger the immune system, the more devastating the effects of the Spanish Flu on an infected person.

If Disease X spawns from an influenza strain it could have a similarly devastating effect on younger populations.

Some governments have made efforts to prepare for disease outbreaks since the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa

As many as 50 million people died worldwide as a result of the devastating Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918



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