Saturday, February 29, 2020

You Can't Shoot Germs! A Prepper's Guide to the Next Level of Self Defense

Note: I wrote this article before the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak. However, much of the information presented is applicable to the current pandemic.

By Timothy Gamble (March 27, 2019)

Self-defense is a major part of preparedness, as most preppers know. Yet, when we think of self-defense, we think of people who wish to do us harm: thugs, criminals, looters, rioters, and even foreign governments. Against such enemies, guns & ammo can work well. But there is another enemy, and it is one against which guns & ammo are useless - GERMS!

Failing to prepare for those microscopic enemies can be as fatal a mistake as failing to prepare for human-sized enemies. Take your self-defense preparations to the next level by arming yourself and your family against the dangers posed by disease. 

Understand this: In any collapse scenario, disease will play a major role due to the resulting breakdown of the healthcare system, the scarcity of medical resources, and the collapse of sanitation and waste disposal systems. Hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and floss will quickly disappear from store selves, as will "luxury" items such as disposable diapers and disposable feminine hygiene products. Water will likely become too valuable to waste on daily showers and frequent clothes-washing. Lack of food will lead to impaired immune systems (historically, during famines more people die of disease than from actual starvation). 

In self-defense against people, the first line of defense is situational awareness. In self-defense against germs, the first line of defense is our health as it is now. The healthier we are now, the more we will be able to resist, and recover from, disease later. Developing our health & fitness, and that of our family, now should be a top priority for any serious prepper and survivalist. 

I know people don't like to be lectured on their health, especially if we know we aren't doing all we should be doing along those lines (and most of us aren't). Besides, you already know what you need to do: stop smoking or using tobacco in any form; stop abusing drugs or alcohol, lose weight if you're overweight, be physically active & get into shape, eat healthy, consume less sugar, de-stress your life, get enough sleep on a regular basis, take care of your teeth, and get regular medical, dental, and vision check-ups. Simple, but requires a lot of work and sacrifice. 

Having plenty of food and water stored, or otherwise being able to provide it for yourself and your family, is key to maintaining your health in a collapse. Food is not only energy, but is the nutrition that your body needs to repair itself and to maintain its immune system. A 'joke" I often hear overweight preppers make is that their extra fat will enable them to do without much food longer than a skinny person could. Sorry, but that isn't how nutrition works. They may understand the energy of food, but fail to understand the nutrition side of the equation. 

I recommend a good multi-vitamin & mineral be added to your food storage as insurance against prolonged periods of limited food. A small bottle could also be easily carried in your bug-out bag or survival pack. Vitamins and minerals don't go "bad" and are not required by the FDA to have expiration dates (though some companies do put dates on their vitamins, typically 1 to 3 years out). Even as they remain safe, vitamins & minerals will slowly lose potency over time, so rotate your vitamins to ensure they remain fresh.  

Next, we need to figure out how we are going to handle sanitation and hygiene during and after a collapse, especially since modern infrastructure will likely collapse, and resources will quickly become scarce. Stockpile needed supplies before any collapse - everything from bleach and cleaning supplies, to soap and toothpaste. 

Also, learn about alternatives you can use as your supplies run out. Examples: baking soda, sea salt, coconut oil, and various herbal powders can all be used instead of toothpaste. You can make your own soap and other cleaning supplies from many common household products (many recipes can be found on the Internet). The point is to learn now, before a collapse.

     Food Preparation = It will be critical to keep all food preparation surfaces clean, as well as dishes, cookware, and utensils. Washing hands before handling food is a must. Wash hands after handling raw meat to prevent cross-contamination. If you are processing wild game or fish, or butchering domestic animals, keep those areas extremely clean. Learn before the collapse how to safely process and butcher animals. 

      Clothes Washing = If there is no electricity, your electric washing machine and dryer won't work. Now what? A clothes washing wand and a large tub, along with a clothes line or dryer rack, will substitute nicely. Remember: Don't waste  your potable (safe-to-drink) water on clothes washing - rainwater or pond water will work as long as it is relatively clean.
     Trash/Garbage Disposal = Post-collapse, the garbage trucks won't be running. What to do?  Yard waste, vegetable scraps, egg shells, and used coffee & tea grounds should all be used for composting to improve your garden soil. Newspaper and cardboard can either be shredded for composting, or used as sheet-mulch. Many items can be repaired or repurposed. Scrap metal is worth saving, as it may become very useful after a collapse. Rinse the metal off if necessary, and store in piles a safe distance from your home (it may become a good hiding place for snakes, rats, etc.). Plastics and other non-usable trash can be safely buried away from your home. Be hesitant to burn trash during and after a collapse, since the smoke may draw unwanted attention, and since fire departments won't be operating.

Don't let trash pile up near your home, garden, or animals. Trash heaps attract snakes, vermin, flies, mosquitoes, and other wildlife, can be breeding grounds for bacteria, and are generally dangerous and unsanitary for a variety of reasons. 

     Bathing/Washing Hands - Even if you cannot bathe daily due to limited water supplies, don't skimp on washing your hands & face or brushing your teeth. Keeping good hygiene practices during and after a collapse will be extremely important to protecting yourself and your family from disease.

     Human Waste - If your septic or sewer system is still working, but you no longer have running water, you can still use your toilets by pouring water into them to flush the waste (this water definitely doesn't have to be potable, so don't waste your drinking water - use rainwater or water straight from a nearby stream or pond). Or consider installing a composting toilet before the collapse, which both allows you to deal with human waste and provides rich compost for your garden (and it really is safe, even if it sounds a little gross). Finally, you can always dig a latrine or outhouse, or simply use a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat. Mixing lime, wood ash, and dirt in with the poop can help reduce order. Empty and clean the bucket daily, of course, using the contents for composting (be sure do this type of composting away from your garden and water sources, and other potential contamination points, and keep it covered to prevent flies).

Dealing with dead bodies will be a tragic consequence of any collapse. You probably won't be able to call the authorities to deal with it, so plan now what to do. Some thoughts:
  • The sooner you deal with a body, the safer it will be, as the decomposition process starts almost immediately.
  • Cremation probably won't be a good solution, as to thoroughly cremate a body will require enormous amounts of wood/fuel, and may attract unwanted attention.
  • Wear disposable gloves when handling a dead body.
  • Completely cover any cuts and abrasions you may have before handling the body.
  • Wear a disposable surgical mask over your mouth & nose, and wear goggles or safety glasses. A face shield would also work nicely.
  • Wear a disposable apron or gown.
  • As soon as possible after death, wrap the body in a body bag or several layers of garbage bags or plastic sheeting.
  • Graves should be dug away from open water sources (at least 100 feet or more) and deep enough (or covered with rocks) to prevent animals from digging it up.
  • Thoroughly wash yourself afterward, even using bleach to clean your hands.
  • Dispose of the gloves, surgical mask, and apron.
  • Th roughly clean and disinfect all equipment and surfaces that came into contact with the body.
  • Keep notes on who you bury and where, along with information on the circumstances of their death. Once law & order is re-established, the new authorities may ask questions.
Avoiding sick people is lot easier said than done, even in good times, as we have little control over people who choose to go to work, school, or shopping while sick. But, to the extent you can, avoid being around with people who are sick. This is especially true during and after a collapse. This means trying to avoid large crowds whenever possible. It means having enough supplies so you don't have to go out if there is an outbreak in your area. When you do have to be around someone who is sick, take proper precautions like washing your hands frequently and wearing a disposable surgical mask.

Wear a disposable surgical mask in public, in good times and bad. Taking the bus, train, or subway? Visiting a flea market or otherwise hanging around a large crowd of people in tight quarters? Trading with the homestead just over the hill?  Take a clue from the Japanese and wear a disposable surgical mask. This will help you not spread your own germs and help you avoid the germs of other people. (They are also great pollen blockers for those suffering from hay fever.)  This isn't common in the west as it is in Asia, so you'll likely get a lot of strange looks. But, is it really effective? Actually, yes. According to a study published in The International Journal of Infectious Diseases (December 2008 issue, page e328), masks have a protective efficacy of over 80% against respiratory illnesses like colds and influenza.

Despite your best efforts, you or someone in your family or group will likely get sick at some point. What then? How do you deal with a sick person during and after a collapse?
Setting up a sick room (also known as a quarantine room) is a good idea. A sick room is a place in your home specifically set aside for the care of a sick person. This room is apart from the rest of the house (perhaps the bedroom at the far end of the house) and folks know to avoid it unless they are taking care of the sick person. Plastic sheeting and PVC piping can be used to create an entrence area just outside the bedroom door, where the caretaker can prepare to enter and leave the area. The room should be fully stocked ahead of time with needed supplies. A good article by an RN on this topic can be found on the Survival Blog website: Setting Up A Sick Room in Your Home.

You need to figure out now how to treat illnesses when their is no hospital or doctor available. For my money (literally, since I have bought two print and one kindle editions), the absolute best book on this subject is The Survival Medicine Handbook: THE essential guide for when medical help is NOT on the way, by Dr. Joe Alton and Nurse Amy Alton. Now in its third edition, this book has over 650 pages of well-organized and well-explained information on dealing with disease and injuries when there is no medical help available. An invaluable resource, I consider this book to be an essential core book for any serious prepper or survivalist. The knowledge it contains could literally be the difference between life and death in a post-collapse world. Especially useful in preparing for a post-collapse world is its lists of medical supplies, OTC drugs, training, and alternative treatments to acquire before the collapse.

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate, that is the question. I'm not going to tell you what to do on this one - its up to you. People on both sides of the debate have very strong opinions when it comes to vaccines. Pro-vaccine people point to the success of vaccinations with wiping out diseases like polio and smallpox, and fervently believe that modern vaccines are safe. Anti-vaccine people point to a lot of anecdotal evidence that vaccines can cause various problems such as autism and infertility, and they don't trust corporations or the government to tell the truth about the safety of vaccinations. And a third set of folks believe that vaccines are generally safe, but that we are way over-medicating ourselves, which could create unintended consequences. Therefore, they are reluctant to take every recommended vaccine that comes on the market. Decide for yourself. Need more information to decide? Check out:

Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent's Guide: How to Make Safe, Sensible Decisions about the Risks, Benefits, and Alternatives.  This book discusses both the pros and cons of vaccinations in a fairly even-handed way.

The blurb: "Midwife, herbalist, and mother of four, Aviva Jill Romm sifts through the spate of current research on vaccine safety and efficacy and offers a sensible, balanced discussion of the pros and cons of each routine childhood vaccination. She presents the full spectrum of options available to parents: full vaccination on a standardized or individualized schedule, selective vaccination, or no vaccinations at all. Negotiating daycare and school requirements, dealing with other parents, and traveling with an unvaccinated child are covered in detail. The book also suggests ways to strengthen children's immune systems and maintain optimal health and offers herbal and homeopathic remedies for childhood ailments. Emphasizing that no single approach is appropriate for every child, the author guides parents as they make the choices that are right for their child." Available on Amazon.

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