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“Disease X” threatens our world

By Peter Curson - posted Wednesday, 11 April 2018

We also continue to believe that we are the dominant species on the planet and that our current arsenal of drugs offers a defence against infectious diseases – while, actually, nothing could be further from the truth. The biophysical environment is a powerful, ever-changing force while we persist in underestimating the ability of the microbial world to adapt and mutate. We are not, therefore, confronted by stationary targets against which we can simply level an antibiotic or anti-viral drug but continually moving targets.

Our underestimation of the power of the microbial environment to adapt and evolve therefore makes for a frightening scenario.

A number of infectious diseases were not listed by the WHO in their release as major threats to human health. But what about Malaria, Yellow Fever, Cholera, Plague and West Nile Virus and of course Influenza. All these diseases continue to pose major threats to human health.


When considering pandemic outbreaks of infectious disease there are a host of vital questions for which we have yet to come up with answers:

  • Just how well are we prepared to confront another pandemic?
  • Do we fully appreciate just what is lurking out there?
  • Do we understand how infectious diseases spread in time and geographical space and the significant role played by animals in their emergence.
  • Can we produce a satisfactory anti-viral drug in time?
  • Can we satisfactorily manage human reaction and behaviour when faced by such a disaster?

I very much doubt that we can do any of these things.

A quick search on your computer for the next pandemic should be enough to convince anyone of the risks we face and the great concern for the health and safety of our world.

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About the Author

Peter Curson is Emeritus Professor of Population and Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Macquarie University.

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