Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun was a young teacher in 1968, and remembers coming down with the flu during that year's pandemic. It was named the Hong Kong flu because the H3N2 strain originated in the former British colony. Dr Chan said her grandmother gave her fresh green olive concoctions to chew as medicinal protection against the disease. In 1997, when the H5N1 bird flu first jumped between species, Dr Chan was director of health. She said the government made the decision to kill all the chickens after evidence showed that almost all the birds in wet markets were infected with the H5N1 virus. Dr Chan, who has been with the World Health Organisation since after the Sars outbreak in 2003, was last month made director of the organisation's communicable diseases surveillance and response department, and representative of the director-general for pandemic influenza. In a flu pandemic or even before an outbreak reaches a critical level, Dr Chan and her team will be making crucial decisions on how to stop or mitigate a flu pandemic. 'Recent developments in Asia demonstrated to us that we are closer [now] to a pandemic than we were in 1968,' she said. 'Being on a pandemic alert tells us there are signs we should be concerned about and to make sure that every national authority prepares for the worst. 'But I must emphasise no one can predict when the next pandemic will happen. 'We have to be very vigilant and pro-active but we also have to rely on the best available science to make the assessment.'