Disease X has popped up in the news from time to time since it was created in 2017. Don't let the word "created" fool you. Disease X isn't some current, manmade disease that appears and spreads across regions or the world, but it doesn't mean it won't.

Disease X is what the World Health Organization calls an infection with the potential to cause the next epidemic or a new global pandemic like COVID-19 according to the New Scientist website. The term can refer to a newly, not yet named pathogen which is an organism that can produce disease with pandemic potential.

COVID-19 was the first Disease X according to New Scientist.

According to the WHO, more than 300 scientists continue to study and research more than 25 virus families with a list of priority pathogens that need further and increased research.

Right now that list includes COVID-19, Crimean-Cong hemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Nipah and henipaviral diseases, Rift Valley fever, Zika, and Disease X.

This list of priority pathogens has become a reference point for the research community on where to focus energies to manage the next threat and is the agreed direction for where we—as a global research community—need to invest energy and funds to develop tests, treatments and vaccines. We thank our donors like the US government, our partners, and the scientists who work with WHO to make this possible.

The coronaviruses are a large group long seen as a prime contender for producing a new pandemic before the COVID-19 outbreak according to New Scientist and COVID-19 spurred the development of novel vaccine designs that could be quickly repurposed to target Disease X.

The WHO held its World Economic Forum annual meeting for 2024 and continues to warn global leaders about the risks of future pandemics and Disease X.

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