- ABC News -
The World Health Organization warned Friday that doctors around the world are now reporting a severe form of swine flu that goes straight to the lungs of otherwise healthy young people -- but some infectious disease experts said the alarm could be unwarranted.
The WHO update comes in the wake of reports from some countries that as many as 15 percent of patients infected with the new H1N1 pandemic virus require extensive -- and expensive -- hospital care.
"During the winter season in the southern hemisphere, several countries have viewed the need for intensive care as the greatest burden on health services," the report said. "Preparedness measures need to anticipate this increased demand on intensive care units, which could be overwhelmed by a sudden surge in the number of severe cases."
But infectious disease experts from both inside and outside the government say that the phrasing used by WHO raises some questions -- particularly because the existence of such a form of the disease is not a new development.
"WHO is certainly putting the fear of [God] in people with this type of release," said William Muraskin, a professor of urban studies at Queens College in New York, who is a specialist in international health. "The description by the WHO is similar to lung infections that claimed so many young people during the 1918 pandemic."
Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted, "Severe pneumonia occurred in 1918 too, but we cannot confirm the pathophysiology is the exactly the same."
And Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, one of the government's preeminent figures on swine flu, told ABC News' Brian Hartman, "The severity should not be anything near what we saw in 1918 -- again, underscoring that things can change.
"But if what we're seeing now is predictive of what we'll be seeing in the fall and the winter this looks like a mild to moderate, not a very severe, pandemic.