Saudi Government Allays Concerns Over WHO Hypothetical ‘Disease X’

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has issued a statement to allay fears about “Disease X,” a hypothetical pathogen that the World Health Organization has discussed in relation to potential threats to humankind.

The ministry clarified that the comments by WHO officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week were based on a theoretical scenario, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The ministry’s statement comes in the wake of social media users reportedly sharing a range of posts falsely stating that Disease X was real, and portraying it as an imminent threat to society.

The ministry stated that it was prepared for any health crisis and that cautionary statements were a regular occurrence. The purpose of warnings from the WHO and scientists was an attempt to ensure governments worldwide prepare for potential threats, it added.

Disease X, as termed by the WHO, represents a hypothetical unknown illness, the ministry explained. It highlighted the natural existence of numerous viruses and germs, some of which mutate and have the potential to jump from animals to humans.

The ministry said that most epidemics do not become pandemics and outbreaks like COVID-19 were “very rare.”

The WHO introduced the concept as part of its 2018 list of diseases that pose the greatest public health risk. The information helps guide global research and development in areas such as vaccines, tests and treatments, according to AP, in a report published on Jan. 19.

Disease X represents a hypothetical pathogen that could one day cause an epidemic or pandemic, according to a 2022 announcement about the WHO’s intent to update its list.

An initial version of the list, which did not include Disease X, was published in 2017 and another update is planned for the first half of 2024. Actual diseases on the current list include COVID-19, Zika, Ebola and SARS.