Disaster has struck and everything you planned for at its worst, unfortunately, is unfolding right before your eyes. You think you’re ready. You’re armed, educated, in your shelter or bunker and your survival instincts have switched from the first 24 hours to the rest of your life. The question you have to ask yourself now is do you know how to defend yourself or your family from the unseen enemy, because when SHTF, nature’s diseases tend to feast on the sick, the foolish and the unprepared.

Good hygiene isn’t the only thing you’ll need to do to survive. Here are some guidelines for you to consider as you practice and prepare for surviving a really bad day. Let’s break down what to do and why you should do it based on possible sources of illnesses.

Animal & Insect Attacks

When all hell breaks loose, so do people’s pets. Dogs, cats and every other critter once under control may very well roam free where you are. Since they’re trying to survive just as much as you are, they may be an active threat all by themselves. Stopping a known threat is pretty academic if you were smart enough to put survival weapons in your shelter. Rifles, shotguns, handguns and even archery equipment can do that job if you’re up to the marksmanship challenge and remembered to stockpile ammunition. Besides unavoidable encounters, the CDC says to avoid animals after a disaster, along with any sort of biting or stinging insect. Good advice, but certainly not breaking news. So how do you do that? Keeping critters away, which might not have your same level of dedication to keeping clean and healthy, is paramount. The CDC recommends keeping food sources secure to minimize attracting animals of all kinds, including rats and other animals that serve as hosts for disease-carrying pests.

” … if the water is contaminated, then you have to pick your poison … Do you die from dehydration or do you take your chances with questionable water?”

Minimizing your exposure to dreaded insects like mosquitoes also plays a significant role in reducing your exposure to malaria, West Nile Virus and dengue fever. Officials at the CDC said, “To protect yourself from mosquitoes, use screens on dwellings; wear long pants, socks and long-sleeved shirts; and use insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin. Follow directions on the product label and take care when using DEET on small children.” Some of the things you can do to help reduce the mosquito population are to remove standing water in and around your shelter. Places like abandoned tires, flower pots, pools and flooded areas all serve as standing-water mosquito breeding grounds and should be eliminated whenever possible.

Still, something horrific has happened for you to be in disaster-survival mode and chances are there are going to be animal carcasses around. If you decide to leave your shelter, or worse, if the dead animals are in your shelter already, what are the best ways to get rid of them? The CDC says wearing personal protective equipment like gloves are key, and to dispose of the remains via plastic bags. The CDC also says to call authorities to come get the carcasses, but for our situation, the emergency services, police and other first responders have all collapsed. Dead bodies, animal or human, are a problem, but they’re not the biggest problem facing survivors with regard to the spread of disease if a natural disaster like a flood or super storm is the cause of the deaths. According to The Communicable Diseases Working Group on Emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO), “The risk of (disease) outbreaks is associated with the size, health status and living conditions of the population displaced by the natural disaster. Crowding, inadequate water and sanitation, and poor access to health services, often characteristic of sudden population displacement, increase the risk of communicable disease transmission.”

Water Dangers

So what is the most important thing survivors should worry about when it comes to staying healthy after a disaster? The WHO again serves as our expert source by saying, “Ensuring uninterrupted provision of safe drinking water is the most important preventive measure to be implemented following a natural disaster.” Why? The reason is the need for water is irrefutable, and if the water is contaminated, then you have to pick your poison, so to speak. Do you die from dehydration or do you take your chances with questionable water? Here are just a few of the most likely water-borne illnesses you might encounter in a disaster situation: diarrhea, cholera, hepatitis A and hepatitis E, and many more. According to WHO documents, an outbreak of diarrhea reached more than 17,000 cases following a flood in Bangladesh in 2004. Terrific.

How do we clean our water if it’s contaminated? The experts at the WHO said, “Chlorine is widely available, inexpensive, easily used and effective against nearly all waterborne pathogens.” Still, the takeaway here is to plan for a clean source of water.

Infectious Crowds

During a disaster, however, bad water isn’t your only pitfall for encountering a deadly disease. Being around crowds of people who are displaced is bad news for your immune system as well. Here are a few diseases, according to the WHO, you can expect if you find yourself amongst quite a few friends who share in your horrible day. Measles can spread like wildfire, especially if immunizations in the region afflicted have gone lax or are even non-existent. Another game-changing illness is meningitis. Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) will rear their ugly head as well because they feast on disaster recovery’s inherently high risk factors.

Wound Care

Rusty nails, dog bites, cuts and other injuries can make you susceptible to tetanus. According to the WHO, “Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person, but is caused by a toxin released by the anaerobic tetanus bacillus Clostridium tetani. Contaminated wounds, particularly in populations where routine vaccination coverage levels are low, are associated with morbidity and mortality from tetanus.” How do you take care of wounds? In best-case scenarios you can seek professional medical attention, but that may not always be available.

Blackout Safety

When the power goes out, whether it’s in your house, on your street or throughout your entire county, there are things you need to be aware of to help fend off life-threating diseases or illnesses after a disaster. With the power out, going to your generator makes sense. If and when you do, be sure to ventilate it so that carbon monoxide doesn’t claim your family before you’ve had a chance to open your bug-out bag. The CDC said if the power is out longer than two hours, throw away food that has a temperature higher than 40 degrees, and of course try to verify that your drinking water is safe to drink. Remember, if the power goes out it means the power may go out at sewage treatment plants, or other municipal utility services, so even if you are getting your water from the tap after a disaster, verify that it’s clean and safe through proper authorities or your own water quality testing. If the weather’s particularly hot, try to stay cool to avoid heat illnesses.

Prepping For Health

Years of prepping for the apocalypse can be wasted if you don’t respect nature and the dangers you can’t see. You must prepare for diseases, as they can wipe out a lot more than just the elderly. There’s no need to go back to medieval times to see Mother Nature wipe out armies who didn’t practice good hygiene.

According to an article in the 1995 May-June U.S. Army Medical Department Journal regarding the impact disease and illness had on the Soviet Army during its Afghanistan campaign, nearly 70 percent of their in-country military was hospitalized due to some form of illness. “These illnesses included 115,308 cases of infectious hepatitis and 31,080 cases of typhoid fever. The remaining 233,554 cases were split between plague, malaria, cholera, diphtheria, meningitis, heart disease, shigellosis (infectious dysentery), amoebic dysentery, rheumatism, heat stroke, pneumonia, typhus, and paratyphus.”

So, wash your hands. Keep yourself, your food and your shelter clean and ensure everyone you care about practices your same healthy habits. After all, if you think the wait in the doctor’s office is long or expensive now just wait until the end of the world.


  • Clean up, disinfect and practice good hygiene to avoid illness from bacteria, viruses, mold and mildew.
  • Get medical care if you are injured, sick or having trouble coping with stress.
  • To prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning, only use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline-, propane-, natural gas- or charcoal-burning devices outside and away from open windows, doors and air vents.
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids to prevent heat-related illness.



  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water if possible.
  • Avoid touching the wound with your fingers while treating it (if possible, use disposable latex gloves).
  • Remove obstructive jewelry and clothing from the injured body part.
  • Apply direct pressure to any bleeding wound to control bleeding.
  • Clean the wound after the bleeding has stopped.
  • Examine the wounds carefully for dirt and foreign objects.
  • Gently flood the wound with bottled water or clean running water (if available, saline solution is preferred).
  • Gently clean around the wound with soap and clean water.
  • Pat dry and apply an adhesive bandage or dry clean cloth.
  • Leave unclean wounds, bites and punctures open. Wounds that are not cleaned correctly can trap bacteria and result in infection.
  • Provide pain relievers when possible.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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