The 8 diseases that are a global risk to health, according to WHO (and why one of them does not yet exist)

The 8 diseases that are a global risk to health, according to WHO (and why one of them does not yet exist)


The World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed its priorities as it has periodically since 2015 and set the list of 8 diseases in which, given their harmful potential, scientists should focus their research work.

The list was captured in a document published last February known as Plan of Action 2018 R & D, which includes strategies and contingency plans to address the threat posed by a series of ailments.

And the eight diseases identified as a global risk are these:

  • Crimean hemorrhagic
  • Ebola virus disease
  • Marburg virus disease
  • Lassa fever
  • Respiratory syndrome due to Coronavirus in the Middle East
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Zika
  • Disease X

Disease X

The inclusion of the so-called Disease X, an assumption still non-existent, responds to the willingness of scientists to prepare against the unknown.

According to the WHO, the hypothetical Disease X “represents the awareness that a currently unknown pathogen could cause a serious international epidemic.”

Anthony Fauci
Copyright of the AFP imageImage caption Dr. Fauci explained that WHO must be prepared for the unexpected.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the United States, said: “Experience taught us that what will hit us is something we did not anticipate.”

Fauci recalled that that was what happened in the cases of Zika and Ebola.

From this premise, the document of the international organization aims to be a tool “to identify those diseases that pose a risk to public health because of their epidemic potential for those that do not exist or are insufficient countermeasures”.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

The virus that causes it causes serious outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever, with a case-fatality rate that can reach up to 40% of those affected.

This disease is endemic in Africa, the European zone of the Balkans, the Middle East and Asia.

A man receives a vaccine in Kinsasa, DR Congo.
Copyright of the AFP imageImage caption Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is endemic in several African countries.

Cattle and ticks are the main responsible for its transmission to humans .

Between people can be transmitted in case of contact with blood or other body fluids of those affected.

There is no vaccine for people or livestock.

Ebola virus disease

This serious and often deadly disease has already caused several global health alerts.

Its case-fatality rate is around 50%.

A technician handles a sample in a laboratory in Somalia.
Copyright of the AFP imageImage caption WHO sets priorities to develop vaccines for diseases for which they do not yet exist.

The first outbreaks occurred in remote villages in the jungle of central and western Africa.

Early supportive treatment with rehydration and symptomatic treatment have increased the number of survivors, but it is still a serious threat.

Hygiene and safety in the burial of those killed by this disease is the best way to prevent massive infections like those that occurred in the 2014-2016 outbreak.

Marburg virus disease

It is a serious disease, often fatal, of which a species of bats acts as a host.

This animal transmits it to people and they can transmit it to each other.

Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Bats are the main transmitters of Marburg virus disease.

Those affected by this disease suffer severe hemorrhagic fever and u fatality rate is around 50% . Many of its symptoms are indistinguishable from those of Ebola.

The disease owes its name to the German city of the same name where its first outbreak was documented, in 1967, because of monkeys arriving from Uganda.

But marburgviruses are endemic to equatorial Africa and the most recent outbreaks have originated or occurred in that continent.

Lassa fever

It is an acute hemorrhagic disease located in West Africa.

The virus that causes it is transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated food or utensils, or by rodent droppings .

Lassa disease virus
Copyright of the SPL imageImage caption Lassa’s is a viral hemorrhagic fever.

According to statistics, between 1 and 15% of patients die.

But there is still no vaccine for Lassa fever and this month it was noted that the disease is spreading rapidly in Nigeria and threatens other countries.

Respiratory syndrome due to Coronavirus in the Middle East

The virus that produces it was detected for the first time in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

It is a respiratory disease whose symptoms are cough, fever and breathing difficulties. Usually, it is usually accompanied by pneumonia.

Health officials visit a patient in the province of al-Agsaa, Saudi Arabia.
Copyright of the AFP imageImage caption Respiratory Syndrome due to Coronvirus first appeared in the Middle East.

Occasionally, it is also accompanied by gastrointestinal syndromes such as diarrhea.

According to WHO data, 35% of patients have died from the disease.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

It is a serious form of pneumonia caused by a virus that was first identified in 2003.

Those affected suffer from acute respiratory distress and, in the worst case, die.

Doctors, at a checkpoint in Kuala Lumpur airport, in Malaysia.
Copyright of the AFP imageImage caption WHO considers SARS a danger, despite the fact that no new cases have been registered for years.

The initial outbreak occurred in 2002 , originating in Canton, China, from where it spread to other Asian countries and Toronto, in Canada.

Shortly thereafter it subsided, but the WHO still considers it a danger.

Rift Valley fever

This disease has a greater incidence in animals than in people.

Humans become infected by contact with blood or organs of infected animals. Sometimes, also by mosquito bites.

There is no record of infections between humans.

Cattle in Kenya
Copyright of the AFP imageImage caption The trade in infected cattle helped spreading the Rift Valley fever.

Most cases are mild, but some patients develop a more serious variant that is associated with eye problems, meningoencephalitis or hemorrhagic fever.

According to WHO, the virus was first identified in 1931 in the Valley of Rift and ” have since been reported several outbreaks in sub – Saharan Africa.”

But as a result of trade in infected cattle, the disease has reached countries such as Somalia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, causing concern “for its possible spread to other parts of Asia and Europe.”


This disease is caused by a virus transmitted mainly by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes.

Those who suffer can suffer acute symptoms such as moderate fever, conjunctivitis or muscle and joint pain. Headaches may also appear.

A man holds his 8-month-old daughter affected by microcephaly.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption The congenital microcephaly caused by the Zirs virsu had a special impact in Brazil.

It is known that there is a causal relationship between the Zika virus and congenital microcephaly that many children who have been exposed to the virus have.

And, sometimes, microcephaly causes neurological problems.

Zika has had a special impact in Latin America , especially in Brazil.

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