As we uneasily watch officials around North America try to track and contain the swine flu outbreak – which has killed scores in Mexico and been detected as close as Kansas – the natural questions are, “What can I do? What should I do?”

Our own government declared an emergency over the weekend and is opening up its stockpiles of flu drugs (and Missouri is asking to tap into those supplies of drugs and masks). The border is being watched more closely. Officials are talking about concern but not alarm.

That’s a good starting point: Don’t panic. Planning and prudence are the best defenders against emergencies.

It is important to remember the basics: Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing. Those popular alcohol-based hand cleaners are helpful, too. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. Stay away from sick people, and stay home if you’re sick.

As many have pointed out, in an age of extensive air travel, we can’t hide from this. But we can take reasonable, preventive steps that might help a great deal.

Learn more
The Independence Health Department has basic information on preparedness for flu pandemics as well as emergencies such as natural disasters. Go to
and click “communicable disease” or “public health preparedness.”

The state Department of Health and Senior Services has information at

The federal Centers for Disease Control has a wide variety of information at