10 Top Diseases by Likelihood That Might Be the Next Pandemic

Covid-19 was a huge wake-up call in an era where globalization has rendered geographical boundaries inconsequential. The human race had grown complacent to the dangers of a disease that could affect a great proportion of the human population. While there had been outbreaks before of infections such as SARS, Ebola, and Zika Virus, these were often geographically limited. And then there is Disease X.

In this article, we’ll delve into the top 10 diseases by statistical likelihood that could potentially spark the next pandemic. But first…

What Is Disease X?

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Disease X is not a specific illness. It represents the possibility that an unknown destructive pathogen could afflict humanity through another pandemic. With this in mind, disaster preparedness is crucial to avert another Covid-type crisis and its implications.

The rationale behind Disease X is fueled by:

  • Unpredictable Nature of Pathogens: New viruses and bacteria are constantly emerging and some have the potential to jump from animals to humans, sparking outbreaks.
  • Rapid Globalization: Our world has become even more interconnected through travel and trade which can facilitate the rapid spread of infectious diseases. New pathogens can quickly escalate from localized outbreaks to a global pandemic.
  • Gaps in Knowledge: Humanity has barely discovered all potential pathogens that could affect it. Additionally, rapid mutations could make them highly transmissible and cause severe illness in humans.
  • Bioterrorism: Potential rogue elements can manipulate existing pathogen genomes to create Gain-of-Function in less harmless pathogens and viruses.

With Disease X on the priority blueprint, the WHO has invested in research and development of broad-spectrum vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Early detection, rapid response, and global collaboration are crucial for mitigating the impact of any future Disease X outbreak.

Bill Gates, Microsoft billionaire, in a post-Covid TED talk, has also raised concerns about the possibility of a disease far worse than Covid-19 being the next pandemic. The world is now more cautious and ready in case of such an event.

Top 10 Possible Diseases That Could Cause the Next Pandemic

While the possibility of a Disease X is nearly inevitable, some other diseases that humans have grappled with can still cause another pandemic. Let’s explore some diseases that have the potential to cause a global pandemic by statistical likelihood.

1.   Influenza

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, has caused numerous pandemics throughout history.

In 1918, nearly 500 million people were infected worldwide by the Spanish Flu. This resulted in an estimated 50 million deaths according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

Influenza can mutate nearly three times a year, and many of the outbreaks reported have emerged from human contact with animals.

2.   Coronaviruses

The recent COVID-19 pandemic was caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It resulted in over 6.4 million deaths globally as of March 14, 2024, according to the WHO. That pales by quite the margin when compared to the Spanish Flue that claimed nearly 50 Million lives. However, medical research was not yet as developed then as it was a century later.

Other coronaviruses, such as those responsible for SARS and MERS, continue to be found in nature and animal reservoirs. SARS resulted in over 8,000 cases and 774 deaths globally between 2002 and 2003 according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). On the other hand, MERS caused about 800 deaths globally according to the WHO.

3.   Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)

The name “Ebola” quickly strikes fear into the hearts of men, women, and children everywhere. Mostly occurring in Central and West Africa, Ebola has a high mortality rate with very little chance of survival.

The 2014-2016 EVD outbreak in West Africa resulted in over 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths according to the NIH. For these countries, the high fatality rates might have been a result of inadequate health infrastructure and low detection regimes. However, the global risk of an Ebola outbreak still lingers and one can’t rule out the possibility of even a larger outbreak.

4.   Zika Virus

Zika virus is transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes. It gained prominence in March 2015 when Brazil reported a large outbreak of rash illness with elements of microcephaly and neurological disorders. This was later confirmed to be a Zika outbreak. This later spread to other areas of the Americas such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

According to the WHO, nearly half a million people were infected and only about 50 people died, with most of the confirmed deaths coming from Brazil. though these numbers pale compared to other diseases on the list, the fact that no treatment has been found is still a scary thought.

5.   Lassa Fever

Lassa Fever was first discovered in West Africa in 1969 when two missionary nurses in the town of Lassa in Nigeria died from the zoonotic illness. The disease is caused by infection from the common African rat and is estimated to infect 100,000 to 300,000 persons per year according to the CDC. Of this number, about 5000 deaths are estimated annually.

While endemic to West Africa, the disease has the potential to spread worldwide due to increased international travel.

6.   Nipah Virus

Nipah virus is another zoonotic disease (meaning caused by animals) that has a high mortality. Fruit bats host the virus and can transmit it to humans and even animals such as pigs. The disease is characterized by the swelling of the brain and can be mild to severe.

The virus outbreak in Malaysia in 1999 resulted in over 260 cases and 105 deaths according to the CDC. Due to its high fatality, Nipah has a high pandemic potential.

7.   Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

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Antibiotics were introduced more than 80 years ago to counter the spread of tough diseases, and they have worked wonders. The WHO estimates that nearly 750,000 lives are lost each year due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and a pandemic could potentially wipe out 10 million lives annually.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is a major driver of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, leading to bacteria strain developing resistance. An example of this type of bacteria is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Conclusion

As evidenced by past pandemics and ongoing outbreaks, the threat of a global health crisis looms large. The possibility of Disease X is always around the corner, and the predictions made by leading global figures present a scary notion.

However, this knowledge empowers us to take action. Solutions will involve identifying and monitoring high-risk diseases, investing in robust healthcare infrastructure, and promoting international collaboration. With such action, we can significantly mitigate the impact of future pandemics.