We are in much better shape than we were in 1918. First of all, we know that influenza viruses exist and we can analyze them and watch their emergence and evolution. Secondly, health care has come a long way, the consequences of influenza infection, including drugs that inhibit influenza virus replication directly. Secondary consequences like bacterial pneumonia, we have antibiotics and other supportive therapy that would be used to treat that. We have the influenza vaccines, which are obviously the most important factor of our current armamentarium against influenza viruses. So all of those things could be put into motion.
The problem would be to do it fast enough. Production of a vaccine takes at least six months and it's having that lead time to get enough vaccine made would be the difficult issue. Another complicating factor with the Hong Kong situation is that this is really a virus that is adapted to life in chickens and is very lethal to chickens, and influenza viruses are actually grown in chicken eggs to make the vaccines. This was a procedure worked out in the 1930's and it really is still the gold standard in which vaccines are made. But this virus actually kills the chicken eggs, and so they wouldn't be able to make a vaccine directly against this virus using the traditional mechanisms.