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06/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

WHO: Swine Flu Could Infect 2 Billion People If Becomes Pandemic

The media's coverage of the H1N1 swine flu epidemic has been criticized by many for being overblown, fire-fanning, scare-mongering, overly hyped, and apocalyptic. However, statements Thursday from a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official seem to do the panic-prone and hypochondriacs out there no favors, predicting that if the virus becomes a pandemic, it could infect a third of the world's population -- around 2 billion people. According to Earth Times, WHO's health security chief Keiji Fukuda predicts that, "looking at past pandemics, a third of the world's population could be infected."

However, Fukuda, speaking to reporters in Geneva, later made note of the crucial distinction between those who will be infected and those who will actually become seriously ill, and he says he is unaware of any inclination by WHO to raise the epidemic alert level from phase 5 to phase 6, Earth Times reports.

The Thursday count for H1N1 infections passed the 2000 mark, with a presence in 23 countries around the world, but with over half the cases being in Mexico where 44 people have died, the New York Times reports. Additionally in the Times report are statements from another health security overseer, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also predicting a further spread of the virus:

"We expect to see large increases in these numbers in the coming days," said Dr. Richard E. Besser, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday, both because of new cases, and because there are large backlogs of laboratory tests in many states. "The virus is continuing to spread both domestically and around the world," he said.

Dr. Besser also warned against "overinterpretation" of the relatively few hospitalizations in the US, predicting that the young, spring-breaker demographic that is most commonly afflicted lends itself to further spread in the future, according to the Times.

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