Methods used to control Sars would not work for avian flu, HKU professor warns More people should be vaccinated against the flu virus to take the pressure off vaccine supplies and hospitals when a pandemic hits, says Malik Peiris, a University of Hong Kong professor of microbiology. 'The flu vaccine is probably under-utilised, particularly in the Asian region. There is a perception here that with the warmer climate, flu is no big deal, that it does not cause much problem,' he said. But Professor Peiris said his studies showed the impact of flu on the elderly of Hong Kong was just as severe as in the United States. 'Every year 800 to 900 die of flu. Therefore it is important that people start to use the flu vaccine on a more regular basis,' he said. 'Then the baseline supply will be at a higher level than it is now, and we will be able to meet a flu pandemic. We will be better off.' Experts generally agree that the next flu pandemic is closer than ever, as the H5N1 avian flu continues to ravage birds in Asia. 'This is exactly the situation where Sars was in 2002 - when the precursor virus was in the markets in Guangdong and was repeatedly infecting humans,' Professor Peiris said. 'Given time, the virus learned how to go from human to human and we know what happened. 'What all of us in the flu world see is that if we give H5N1 enough time, it is going to do the same thing,' he said in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. Flu would be more disastrous than Sars because it was more transmissible, he said. 'It could be almost impossible to control a pandemic of avian flu using the methods that were successfully used for Sars,' he said, referring to isolation and quarantine. 'With flu, transmission occurs before you develop symptoms, and in the first day of developing symptoms, so you do not have enough time to use public health measures to stop transmission.' Professor Peiris noted that despite the imminent threats of Sars and avian flu, funds were being allocated to bioterrorism. 'The example of Sars and avian flu and many others show us that nature is the most potent bioterrorist of all,' he warned. 'If we skew our investment to focusing on a few diseases that might be potent bioterrorist weapons, I think we are losing a great opportunity to be much better prepared for the next emerging infectious disease.'