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World Health Organization warns of 'Disease X' which could kill billions

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Doctors believe it is only a matter of time.

Doctors from the World Health Organization have added a new disease to their list of potential pandemics, Disease X. The illness is hypothetical, but doctors believe it is only a matter of time before such a disease emerges and kills millions to billions of people. Here's why they believe that.

Disease X is out there, and it is just a matter of time.

Disease X is out there, and it is just a matter of time.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
3/12/2018 (6 years ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: Disease X, World Health Organization, pandemic, warning

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - In the year 1347, the Black Death arrived in Europe. Over the next decade, it ravaged the continent, leaving a few places mysteriously untouched. At least a third to two two-thirds of the population perished. In the Russian city of Smolensk, only five people survived. 

The disease was deadly because it spread rapidly and easily from person to person. It was also virulent, meaning it killed about ninety percent of those it infected. Some strains of the disease were nearly a hundred percent fatal. 


The Black Death of the 14th century wasn't the only such plague to impact humanity, but it is the most deadly one per capita for which we have a good account. And since then, the world has been ravaged by pandemics almost like clockwork. About every 30 years or so, another influenza pandemic emerges. And that's just influenza. The number of years between pandemics varies between three to 57, so counting years does little to say when. But experts are unanimous, it isn't if, it's when. And that's just for influenza. 

We are doing a number of things to make the next pandemic come sooner than later. 

The most dangerous activity is urbanization of the world's pristine natural regions. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the textbook example. The disease that is HIV jumped from primates to humans about a century ago. It circulated quietly among native people in the jungles of West Africa until the construction of highways and urban centers caused the disease to spread first across equatorial Africa, then around the globe. 

There are certainly millions-to-billions of bacteria and viruses in the world which live in their sylvatic reservoirs, that is, in nature, and have never infected a human. But as we hack our way into the world's jungles, we increase our chances of exposure. The odds are, at least a few of those millions of pathogens have all the right traits to become deadly diseases in humans. 

There are other risk factors as well. Industrial farming of animals for meat means their populations become breeding grounds for all kinds of new diseases. Among chickens and swine, the flu can circulate, mutating as it goes. While mutation is random, natural selection could channel the evolution of the germ into the next super-flu pandemic. With millions of birds and pigs swapping these germs among themselves, it is inevitable that something terrible will evolve. 

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Humans are also a concern. Gene editing is becoming easier and it is possible for people to engineer germs. All it takes is one mad scientist, or careless lab worker and a little bad luck, and some terrible human-engineered pathogen will escape the lab. 

Whatever the means, the next pandemic is on its way. Sanitation, robust vaccination programs, and affordable and accessible public health programs are critical to controlling the next outbreak and minimizing the impact. 

The World Health Organization wants the world to be aware of this danger, and to pay attention to their public health programs. The WHO will be on the front line of the next pandemic and their success depends greatly on public preparation and cooperation. 

 

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