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A Crash Course in Preparedness – Week 2 – Medicine, Sanitation, and Surviving Disaster Diseases


Welcome back to week 2 in our Crash Course into Preparedness [1]. Last week we discussed the basics of survival [2] 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 [3] 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 [4], “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.

In this week’s course, I have compiled lists of preparedness items you may need for these types of disasters, but in no way is this list comprehensive. 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:

As well as a few others that mainly affect animals:

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 [5] that will cull the local mosquito population.

If you are cleaning your home after a flood, make sure you follow these steps from the EPA on flood-related cleaning [6].


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.

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 [7] 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 [8] 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 [9]

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:

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:

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.

If water services are interrupted, an easy way to utilize the toilet and keep it clean is to:

If a portable camp toilet is used, the above mentioned can also be used. However, if the trash crews are coming, carefully secure the waste bag and store in a designated trash can to be collected. If the trash crews are not coming in a given amount of time, the bag of waste will need to be buried (see the proper way to bury waste below).

Officials say to avoid burying your waste, but sometimes it is necessary. However, if the waste is not properly taken care of, pollution of water sources will lead to illness and disease. It also attracts flies and insects which will spread the disease further. Understand that burying feces takes up to a year to decompose. Therefore, finding the right spot to bury your feces is crucial. There are biodegradable bags that a person can put their waste into. These can usually be found in the camping department of outdoor stores, or on the Internet. The bags assist the waste in decomposing faster and assists in preventing the waste from hitting major water sources. If a person does not have one of these handy bags available, the feces should be buried in “catholes” far away from water sources, campsites and a communal spot where there are a lot of humans. If you find yourself in a situation where toilet paper is not available, you may have to resort to a more natural method of staying clean. Below is a list of toilet paper alternatives for an emergency situation.

Toilet Paper Alternatives


It is important to continue regular hygiene habits during an emergency. As well, a woman’s personal hygiene [10] and ensuring children are clean is essential in making sure sanitation-related illnesses do not occur.Habits such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, combing your hair and even washing your body with a wet washcloth. This will provide a sense of normalcy, help prevent the spread of disease, as well as help to relieve the stress brought on by the disaster.

In a pinch, water can be heated outside using a sun visor for a vehicle or a sun oven. Use filtered potable water or fresh rainwater during times of emergencies. To prevent sanitation-related diseases, do not use standing water.

SHTF laundry

If your home was damaged by flood water, you will need to disinfect your washing machine. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set the washer to the largest load capacity and fill with hot water
  2. Add one cup chlorine bleach
  3. Set the washer to a full cycle with a hot water rinse. Allow washing machine to run through the entire cycle.
  4. Clean the exterior of the washer – top, front and sides – and all other surfaces in the laundry room with a solution of chlorine bleach and hot water. Rinse with clean water.

Additional Maintenance Tips:

Once your washer is clean and ready for use, it’s time to get that laundry going.

  1. Sort clothes into appropriate piles.
  2. Check your care label to make sure garments are washable.
  3. If labeled hand washable only, then hand wash—do not put into the washing machine.
  4. If the garment is dry, brush off loose dirt and residue. Rinse in clean, cool water to remove mud and flood water. This will take several rinses until rinse water is clear. Work a heavy duty detergent (liquid) or paste of granule detergent into all stained areas. Let stand 30 minutes.
  5. Work a heavy duty detergent (liquid) or paste of granule detergent into all stained areas. Let stand 30 minutes.
  6. Follow care labels and wash in hottest water safe for the garment with detergent. Use bleach if recommended for the garment.
  7. Sanitize with a disinfectant. Always test on an inconspicuous seam to be sure it does not harm the garment. Add to washing machine before adding clothing.

Some disinfectants to try are:

Off-grid laundry is another option to consider

As well, you need to consider some off-grid laundry sources if your home has no power. Some items you will need are:

First, gather your supplies.

  1. Separate clothing into small piles.
  2. In a large basin, add laundry soap and begin filling with water with the hottest water. Mix the soap into the water until incorporated.
  3. As water is still filling up in the basin, add laundry. Turn off the water when water covers the soiled laundry.
  4. Add any disinfectants and mix to incorporate.
  5. Allow laundry to sit for 30 minutes to an hour to soak.
  6. When ready to clean clothes, fill the second basin up with water and set aside.
  7. Using an agitator, scrub clothes to get all stains off.
  8. Rinse clothes in the second basin to remove soap.
  9. Ring out clothes and set on dryer rack to dry.

Prevention is the key to spreading communicable diseases, so prepare appropriately.


Short-term disasters can bring on a myriad of medical situations and they can occur very quickly. Because of the disaster, roads may be impassable, or in some cases, the hospitals may be at capacity and cannot take in any more patients. With that in mind, it is important to know what the most common medical emergencies are and prepare accordingly for them.

In short-term disasters, prepare for water-related illnesses. This will be very common given the close proximity to contaminated water sources.

In The Prepper’s Blueprint [11], it states, “The relationship between communicable diseases and disasters exist and merits special attention. When there is a short-term emergency, there is an increased number of hospital visits and admissions from common diarrhea-related diseases, acute respiratory infections, dermatitis, and other causes. These type of medical issues are due to those coming in direct contact with flood waters contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. These contamination factors will cause irritation to skin and a host of other medical conditions.”

In longer-term disasters, burns, cuts, rashes and secondary infections will also be very common medical emergencies to prepare for. Folks, these are the disasters you will likely face and it is imperative that you prepare for this with proper medical supplies and knowledge.

I realize that there are a lot of medical conditions to think about. The best approach is to look at the basics and prepare for those. Many medical items can be used for multiple disasters, so take comfort in this and prepare accordingly.

Build the Ultimate 1 Year Medical Supply with These First Aid Basics

Experts suggest that each home have a basic medical supply that is unique to your family’s needs. Therefore, keep any pre-existing conditions and allergies any family members may have, as well as the above list of the most common medical conditions that hospitals see. It is within your best interest to ensure that you have any and all necessary medications that require prescriptions before an emergency happens.We all have our fair share of band-aids and antibiotic ointment, but do you have medical supplies that can help with true medical emergencies?

The following list is your basic medical preparations broken into sections of the need to help in your organization.


Essential Medical Tools

Over-the-Counter Products

Natural Supplements

Wound Care

*These are your minimum quantities. If you are able to do so, prepare for more.

One cannot become proficient at something without study [24] and application. Going as far as to take medical courses in community colleges, local county extension offices, local fire departments, and with veterans groups, along with other civic clubs and organizations can give you a great edge on acquiring knowledge on medical emergencies and how to treat them. It should go without saying, but stock up on medical manuals like:

Taking medical courses would be very beneficial in preparing for this type of emergency. The Fire Department, American Red Cross or Medical Centers are local resources that offer classes to assist in medical emergencies. To further prepare, find websites online that deal with first aid care and go through each injury to see what medical instruments and items are needed.

Customize Your Supplies

Many believe that a basic store-bought medical kit will provide for all of their medical needs, but these kits tend to be overloaded with unneeded items (i.e., 500 band aids). Buying your own medical supplies allows you to customize your kit to fit your family’s unique needs and is more economical. In fact, you can purchase many of these items at your local Dollar Store [33] to save money.  Customizing your family’s medical supply gives your family members the best chance at being cared for when a medical emergency arises. Further, take your preparedness a step further and organize your medical preps and create medical response packs  [34]for quick acting.

Store a first aid kit in the car (being careful with heat sensitive items) and also tuck some medical supplies into your 72-hour bag [35] as well as at work [36]. This way, you can be ready to deal with medical emergencies wherever they happen to occur.

Storing Medical Supplies

How you store your first aid supplies is every bit as important as having the supplies in the first place. Medicines can lose potency or spoil if they are subject to moisture, temperature fluctuations, and light.  For example, aspirin begins to break down when it is exposed to a slight amount of moisture.

Unless the instructions indicate otherwise, store medications in a cool, dark place that is out of the reach of children.   However, you still want to store the medical supplies in a place that is easily accessible to adults, who may need to respond very quickly in the event of a medical crisis.

Check expiration dates periodically to ensure the medicines are still good to use.  While most medicines lose potency once they’re past the expiration date, there are a few that will actually make a person extremely ill if taken after it spoils.  For example, tetracycline antibiotics that have spoiled can cause a severe, sometimes deadly, kidney ailment.

Signs of Expired Medicines

Although there is data that states most medicines can last longer than their expiration dates, it is important to understand that using medicine years past its expiration date can lose effectiveness and in some cases, change its chemical makeup. If you are in a survival situation where your life depended on an outdated drug, then it is wise to follow the cliché “better safe than sorry”.

Knowing the signs of expired medicine can help indicate when new items are needed.

Bear in mind, there are some medications that should never be used after their expiration and could have severe consequences for patients. These include:

Source [37]

What if you don’t have enough medical supplies?

Now, let’s take this a step further. What if you prepared your food and water for an emergency, but completely forgot about getting medical supplies? (It’s hard to remember everything when you’re planning for a disaster) There are some alternatives that you may be lucky enough to have in your pantry to use.

Some of your kitchen staples [38] may have some medicinal value. For instance, did you know you can make an antiseptic (first discovered during World War I) made of a diluted solution of baking soda and bleach? It’s called Dakin’s Solution [39] and has been proven to kill most bacteria and viruses. As well, vinegar, baking soda, baking powder and salt have medicinal values.

Honey [40] has become a poster child for an alternative to antibiotics can fight multiple species of bacteria, fungi, and superbugs, making it a viable alternative to antibiotics.

As Ready Nutrition writer, Jeremiah Johnson recently wrote, “Honey is also good for wounds/abrasions/cuts of the mouth, as it is a demulcent that soothes abraded tissues, and it also is a medium that microbes do not live in.  Who doesn’t remember the time-honored honey and lemon mixture for a sore throat?  The thing of it is: it works, and if it works it should be employed. Read more on how to use honey to treat wounds [41].

Having access to health-inducing herbs [42] is another essential for wound care. Herbs such as oregano, garlic, lavender, and thyme can help protect a wound from infection and promote healing. Along those lines, writer, Jeremiah Johnson recommends every prepper have the Three G’s: Ginger, Garlic, and Ginseng [43] in their natural medicine cabinet. Further, knowing which herbs can be used for natural pain killers is also paramount in your medical preparedness knowledge. Some pain reducing herbs to add to your herbal first-aid kit are:

Common pantry items can also be used to help bleeding wounds clot. Many have found that cayenne pepper [44] is an effective alternative and natural version of QuikClot [45]. Cayenne pepper contains an active ingredient, called capsaicin, which has analgesic (pain relieving) properties and various other medicinal uses.

As well, boiled and sanitized torn sheets can be used as bandages. Or, if the cuts are minor and you have access to an herb garden, consider placing a sage leaf or lamb’s quarters on the cut as a natural bandage [46].

In an extended disaster, bacterial infections and viruses are likely to be one of the reasons that people will die [47].

Historically, essential oils have been used as a natural therapy to relieve symptoms when modern-day medicine was not available. The most amazing aspect of essential oils lies in their ability to effectively kill bad bacteria while leaving good bacteria alone! Rather than targeting one symptom, as Western medicine does, it targets multiple symptoms.

There are two types of essential oils you should stock up on for SHTF planning:

Antibacterial – Due to the increase of antibacterial resistant illnesses, many are turning to essential oils such as basil, cassia, cinnamon, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, marjoram, melaleuca, myrrh, orange, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, and thyme.

Antiviral – Oils that have been studied to help control viral infections include: basil, cassia, cinnamon, eucalyptus, frankincense, lemon, lemongrass, marjoram, Melaleuca, myrrh, oregano, and thyme.

I started out with a simple beginner’s essential oil kit [48] and have found it of great use! Some more popular ways of using essential oils are aromatherapy [49], herbal soaks, compresses [50], tinctures, and salves [51].

Surviving Disaster-Related Diseases

In reality, the aftermath of a disaster is always to hardest to survive. We tend to find ourselves in third-world living conditions – off-the-grid, poor water conditions, lack of proper sanitation and poor diet.

Those conditions can create the perfect storm for outbreaks of disease and infection. And if you find yourself living in close proximity to others, those diseases can quickly spread, thus setting the stage for an epidemic.


Let’s cut to the chase, epidemics are quite common following certain disasters. According to this publication [52], these are the most common diseases that follow a disaster:

Many believe the misuse of antibiotics [53] in the past has led to the dangers of super bugs [54] such as the spread of MRSA and MERS virus. In fact, nearly all significant bacterial infections in the world are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics. This means that our current medical safety nets will be much smaller in the near future. Even the smallest cuts could pose a danger to our health.

To add insult to injury, the disease typhoid [55] which is spread from contaminated food and water is also becoming resistant to antibiotics and could soon become an out of control nightmare. Why am I telling you this? Because superbugs are everywhere now and experts warn that “it’s almost too late [54].” In the wake of a disaster, we immediately fall back on medicines that have worked in the past. If we find ourselves with an infection and antibiotics don’t work, then a secondary infection will set in and your fate is sealed.

Phases of outbreak and classification of infectious disease

Infectious disease transmission or outbreaks may be seen days, weeks or even months after the onset of the disaster. Three clinical phases of natural disasters summarize the chronological public health effects on injured people and survivors:

Phase (1), the impact phase (lasting up to 4 days), is usually the period when victims are extricated and initial treatment of disaster-related injuries is provided.

Phase (2), the post-impact phase (4 days to 4 weeks), is the period when the first waves of infectious diseases (air-borne, foodborne, and/or water-borne infections) might emerge.

Phase (3), the recovery phase (after 4 weeks), is the period when symptoms of victims who have contracted infections with long incubation periods or those with latent-type infections may become clinically apparent. During this period, infectious diseases that are already endemic in the area, as well as newly imported ones among the affected community, may grow into an epidemic.

Source [56]

When an outbreak occurs, those living in cities or in close proximity to others will be more at risk of contracting illnesses and spreading them. Any pregnant women, infants, elderly people, or those with chronic medical conditions are also at risk and could be the first of the population to contract the contagious illness. If an epidemic approaches, there could be long-lasting repercussions of such a disaster. The worst-case scenario in all of this is if the outbreak is widespread and extremely contagious drastic changes could be made to isolate the outbreak itself.

While these are extreme points, I want to make sure you are prepared for a worst-case scenario and knowing what to expect will help you in your efforts. As I have mentioned, with any type of disaster or emergency, the responsibility falls more heavily upon our shoulders to ensure you can meet our needs. Instituting preventative measures in the home could also help you better prepare for injured or infectious family members.

Some items to consider when stocking a sick room are:

To conclude, there will always be the threat of completely unanticipated disasters, but your overall understanding of the disasters we face and the dangers that lie in the aftermath will help you maneuver through these types of emergencies.


Course Discussion

We all have a way to help others prepare. One of the most wonderful things you can do is to help someone prepare. New preppers, if you have questions, leave them in the comment section and as a community, we can help to answer them. You’re not in this alone. I know this information provided is a lot to take in, just pace yourself and we are all here for you if you need it.


Sign Up For This Week’s Giveaway!

To help some readers get prepared for sanitation-related emergencies, we’re giving away a copy of The Prepper’s Blueprint [71] – widely popular and highly rated preparedness manual and a sanitation kit. [72]

All you have to do is sign up for our newsletter [73] and leave a comment in one of our weekly National Preparedness articles about what you feel the most important aspect of being prepared is in the bottom of the article. Good luck everyone!