A Crash Course in Preparedness – Week 2 – Medicine, Sanitation, and Surviving Disaster Diseases
A Crash Course in Preparedness – Week 2 – Medicine, Sanitation, and Surviving Disaster Diseases by Tess Pennington – Ready Nutrition
Welcome back to week 2 in our Crash Course into Preparedness. Last week we discussed the basics of survival and gear needed for a short-lived event. One of the comments from last week’s class mentioned that it isn’t hard to prepare, you just have to start. I couldn’t agree more! My only addition I would make to this comment is in order to start you must prioritize your needs and know what you’re planning for. This week, we are taking the same concept from last week – prioritizing, planning and preparing to another facet of disaster planning and highlighting the more dirty side of preparedness – medical and sanitation needs.
Some of the greatest threats in an emergency occur after the disaster. Lack of accessible clean water following major disasters can quickly escalate and create secondary problems in a post SHTF situation. Additionally, those unsanitary conditions can exacerbate the spreading of diseases, infections and health risks. In this preparedness course, we will cover the most common issues that occur following a disaster that relates to hygiene, sanitary and medical condition.
Sanitation, good hygiene, and medical preparedness all go hand-in-hand. But as you will see after reading this guide, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of preparation. Simply put, there are many wrong turns a person could take in the aftermath of a storm and their health could suffer as a result. Therefore it is paramount that you understand the magnitude of these types of disasters and how to avoid them. As Ready Nutrition writer, Jeremiah Johnson noted in a recent article, “hygiene protects you from germs and diseases, as well as preventing the body from falling apart.” In the aftermath of disasters, this needs to stay at the forefront of our priorities.
On a personal note, I have tried to compile an exhaustive list of preparedness items needed for these types of disasters, but there is always some other items that someone will need. Therefore, remember to prioritize your household’s needs! If someone in your home has a preexisting condition – prepare for that. If someone in the household has mobility issues – make sure they have supplies to help them get around, or if someone has a suppressed immune system – prepare accordingly.
We have a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of prepper lists to review, so let’s get started.
Why your water sources become contaminated after a disaster and why you should avoid them
Water is one of the most necessary elements to sustain life, but when that water is dirty, it can quickly become one of the most dangerous. Following a disaster, municipal water lines will more than likely be damaged and can become contaminated with sewage, chemicals and, in particular, may also contain a number of pathogens that can cause illness. These contaminated waters harbor bacteria, different viruses, and fungi – all of which can make people very sick.
Diseases can be present in the water. Most notably, cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and Leptospirosis. If massive flooding occurs in the area and homes are damaged as a result, mold could also pose a serious health problem and exacerbate asthma, allergies, or other respiratory diseases like COPD. Mold can appear in as little as 24 to 48 hours after flood waters recede. Experts suggest not to touch it. Wear rubber gloves, wear a mask when handling it and if you are in a dwelling where there is mold, you should leave.
Those who have open wounds or rashes should also avoid the flood waters as they can quickly become infected. If the water lines are damaged, or if the damage is suspected, do not use municipal water sources for cleaning or drinking. Likewise, throw out any food that has come in contact with contaminated water. Avoiding contaminated water is your best bet, but at times unavoidable. Maintaining proper sanitation and hygiene will ensure your overall health and safety.
Fly infestations also pose a problem, and if the waste is left out in the open, then it will only lead to the susceptibility of epidemics such as Hepatitis A, cholera, typhoid or diphtheria. Having a means dispersing of human waste will ensure that in times of disaster, your family and neighbors will stay healthy.
As well, mosquitoes are notorious for harboring diseases. Some of which are:
- West Nile
- St. Louis Encephalitis
- La Crosse Encephalitis
As well as a few others that mainly affect animals:
- Western Equine Encephalitis
- Dog Heartworm
So it’s important for homeowners in disaster affected regions to take certain measures to prevent the proliferation of mosquitoes. This requires keeping an eye out for things on your property that might contain even the smallest puddles of water. As well, experts are recommending that homeowners drain pools and if you see mosquitoes in larger areas of standing water to alert authorities.
Make sure you clear any trash or debris in your yards such as tires or cans and don’t leave any water out in flower pots or water bowls. It’s also a good idea to secure any leaky pipes you might have outside of your home, and clear out any leaves in your gutters. In some cases, you may need to fill or drain spots that tend to collect water on your property. As an added defense, build traps that will cull the local mosquito population.
No one really wants to discuss sanitation because it’s… well, an unpleasant and dirty subject. However, it is one of the most important areas to focus on when preparing for a disaster.
Most disasters cause sanitation nightmares simply because following a disaster, there is a lack of sanitation facilities or water lines have been damaged or crossed with sewage lines. This can bring on serious health risks.
Here are a couple of necessary facts you need to keep in mind.
- In the aftermath of a disaster where water sources are compromised, people within a 50-mile radius could be adversely impacted by illness and disease just if one person handled the trash improperly. Let that sink in.
- If the you-know-what has hit the fan, you must be aware that more people die after a disaster due to poor sanitation than from the disaster itself. This is due to individuals not knowing where or how to properly expel waste.
- Infectious diseases from contaminated water can make certain groups very vulnerable – the very young, the elderly and people suffering from diseases that lower their immune resistance.
How to prepare for sanitation disruptions
When the trash cannot be picked up, it must be burned or buried by you; however, municipalities cannot risk contamination to the water source or soil from people who incorrectly bury their debris, so it is important to know how to properly dispose of your waste products and stay clean, as well. Typically, city officials will provide information on this after a disaster occurs.
One of your first lines of defense is to keep hands clean during an emergency to prevent the spread of germs. If your tap water is not safe to use, wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected. If needed, a temporary hand washing station can be created by using a large water jug that contains clean water.
How to clean water
Bring your drinking water to a rolling boil for 15 to 20 minutes before consumption or for cleaning purposes. At altitudes above one mile or 2,000 meters, you should increase the rolling time to three minutes. For an added measure, after boiling, you can chemically disinfect the water with chlorine bleach (minus additives). Use 16 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon, or 4 drops per quart of water.
The reason for taking added measures after you boil your water is that many water-borne diseases like giardia and cryptosporidium tend to encyst and can survive a chemical disinfection, especially with chlorine. Most of your one-celled creepy-crawlies will bite the big one with it, but boiling is the only surefire method when you don’t have an advanced water filtration system available.
Calcium hypochlorite (HTH, also known as “pool shock”) is another method to use. The concentrations are different per the manufacturer, but you can reconstitute it and make a slurry with a one-liter bottle and a teaspoon of the HTH. Then you follow the ratio for chlorine drops as provided above, keeping aware that it will deteriorate over time. Source
Wash your hands
Now that the water is clean, washing hands with soap and water are the best way to reduce the number of germs on the skin. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. According to the CDC, you should wash your hands after the following:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After touching garbage
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
Make a sanitation kit
As well, you want to ensure your house has a way of dealing with sanitation issues. Having a sanitation kit that is ready in times of disaster is essential to keeping your family and neighbors healthy. These kits can fit comfortably into a bucket, are affordable, and will not take up much space. Additionally, being educated on how to properly dispose of waste is a key factor in keeping everyone healthy during a disaster.
Some suggested sanitation supplies should be added to any short or long-term emergency kits are:
- Disposable bucket or luggable loo
- Toilet paper (two weeks worth)
- Rubber gloves
- Garbage bags with twist ties (for liners of toilets or luggable loo)
- Bathroom cleaner
- Cat Litter or absorbent material such as saw dust or dirt
- Baby wipe
- Baking soda can be used to help eliminate odors
- Women’s sanitary needs
Dispose of Waste
Properly disposing of waste products keeps water sources clean and cuts down on illness and disease. If city water is still available, flush conservatively. Grey water such as used dish water, bath water or water for cooking can be used to flush the toilet. If water lines are damaged, or if the damage is suspected, do not flush the toilet.