Disease X warning: Scientists ‘kept up at night’ with worry over possible bio-attack

Chris Whitty discusses the impact of pandemics in 2018

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Dr Tara O’Toole said Disease X – the placeholder name for a devastating pandemic that could sweep the globe – was a major concern. And the former Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology said she was particularly concerned about the disease’s potential impact on the US Army. She said the threat “keeps her up at night” and stopping it “was very important to US national security”.

Speaking this week during an online seminar of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Dr O’Toole said that a major pandemic, brought on by disease X, would “not only be a tragic event in terms of the loss of life, but also extraordinary disruptive” to the US military and US national security.

She warned it would “fray the fabric of our civil life”.

The scientist added Disease X would create “another pandemic that could seriously impede the US military’s ability to use its national power”.

She used the example of the coronavirus pandemic to illustrate the disruptive effects of a new pandemic.

Dr O’Toole said: “We had to take an aircraft carrier out of action because of covid and deal with many sick troops.”

And she speculated Disease X could be the consequence of a lethal bio-attack.

The scientist explained how there was “now a threat of deliberate bio-attacks” using deadly pathogens.

She added: “The market for the goods that bio-tech can produce is increasing.

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“In the future, there will be a lot of people who know how to manipulate biology.

“Biological threats wither natural or deliberate have got to be a concern of national security.”

She gave a troubling example of how deadly a bio-attack could be.

Dr O’Toole explained: “In the 1960s we had a program where these bioweapons had a lethality threat that was equivalent to nuclear weapons.”

The scientist then went on to urge the US to catch up with the “global bio-economy”.

She stated China was taking the lead in this area as it was “investing very heavily in adapting the science into useful products”.

She added: “But we are still far behind and I am concerned by the failure of the government to focus on the coming bio-economy.

Scientists are keeping vigilant for new viruses that could pose a pandemic threat.

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