A news headline and a twitter joke / meme about Disease X.

Disease X

Updated Sep 27, 2023 at 05:07PM EDT by Zach.

Added Sep 27, 2023 at 11:07AM EDT by sakshi.

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Disease X is the placeholder name used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to describe a potentially devastating hypothetical unknown pathogen that could lead to a worldwide pandemic. While the WHO coined the term in 2018, there is no scientific consensus on whether COVID-19 should be considered the first such "Disease X." In 2023, increased news coverage about Disease X led to discussions and memes beginning to appear online.


On February 7th, 2018, the World Health Organization released a document[1] discussing the possible effects of a potential disease they called "Disease X." The WHO wrote:

“Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.”

In the years since the release of the document, some experts have asserted that COVID-19 met the standards to be considered the first Disease X, while others cite the Zika virus as the first Disease X. However, many scientists also consider the possibility that COVID-19 and similar pandemics in recent memory might only be mild versions of what Disease X could be.[2]

On March 16th, 2019, the WHO's official YouTube[3] channel posted a video discussing the origins of the term "Disease X," gathering over 11,000 views in five years.

Online Reactions

While sporadic internet discussions about "Disease X" took place prior to 2022,[4][5] discussions about the topic accelerated in 2023. This was largely due to a news article put out by U.K.-based newspaper Sky News discussing the work of a lab working to engineer vaccines to protect against the potential Disease X.[6]

Many users on X expressed distrust towards the news story, saying that the idea of a lab working towards creating vaccines for a potential virus that doesn't yet exist was "suspicious."[10] For example, X[7] user @david_r_morgan quoted the news story on August 7th, 2023, gathering over 5,000 likes in a month (seen below).

Other internet users joked about Disease X being Elon Musk or its first victim being Twitter, given that the social media platform was renamed X around the same time. X[8] users @FormulaStoo and @aintscarylarry[9] posted such jokes on August 7th, gathering over 2,000 and 1,000 likes each (seen below).

Stoo G @FormulaStoo The first victim of Disease X: 4:14 PM. Aug 7, 2023 245.7K Views . Follow Scary Larry @aintscarylarry BREAKING: Scientists have already identified and photographed Disease X. Horrifying. @KaitlinFish8 6:40 PM. Aug 7, 2023 · 105K Views ... Donald Trump Isn't The Only P---- Ass Bitch.

On August 7th, 2023, X[11] user @LKP_KYjelly posted a meme about Disease X, gathering over 500 likes in a month (seen below).

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