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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The World Health Organization and Disease X

Por Feco

‘Disease X’ was recently included in the World Health Organization list of infectious pathogens that represents a menace to mankind. The initiative seeks to alert health systems around the world to be prepared for a disease of great impact, so as to diminish its potential effects on human beings and the rapid spread.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has included "Disease X" in its list of infectious pathogens that pose a greater threat to global health due to its epidemic potential. It is a hypothetical bacterium or virus that could arise in the future and cause a generalized infection throughout the world.

With this measure, WHO seeks to sensitize member states on the need to be prepared for a possible emergency caused by a pathogen still unknown. "Disease X is temporary. For example, AIDS was Disease X, since it killed many people and it was not known what it was", says Juan Pablo Horcajada, head of the infectious diseases service at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona. Globalization and the increase in travel in the last decade have increased the possibility that communicable diseases may spread. For Horcajada, the decision of the WHO is "very intelligent", since it can serve to soften the atmosphere of stress and worry about the lack of knowledge of what is happening every time there is an epidemic.

The health systems, according to Horcajada, must be sufficiently prepared to tackle Disease X both from the point of view of epidemiological containment and from the point of view of rapid diagnosis. It is a broad-spectrum preparation: "that serves both for a respiratory virus and a virus that goes through water, an antibiotic resistant bacteria or an environmental fungus." The teams, he says, must be multidisciplinary and act quickly, based on thoughtful and established protocols, that is, formed by epidemiologists, medical specialists in infectious diseases, microbiologists and technicians working in field epidemiology.

Although this hypothetical disease could be caused, for example, by resistance to antibiotics, José María Martín Moreno, Professor of Public Health at the University of Valencia and former Director of Program Management for Europe at WHO, points out that it is most likely to be developed through a mechanism of zoonotic transmission, when an infectious disease that usually affects animals goes on humans. This is the case of Ebola, salmonella or HIV, which was transferred to humans from chimpanzees at the beginning of the 20th century. "As the ecosystem and human habitats change, there is always a risk that diseases jump from animals to humans," he says. Worried enough?

Luis Enjuanes, head of the Coronavirus Laboratory of the National Biotechnology Center, proposes developing health surveillance networks and training primary care and emergency physicians to know how to react to suspicious illnesses. In addition, he points out that it would be necessary to increase the electronic information networks of health systems so that doctors can access information on recent infections and improve the structures for the isolation of suspect patients.