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The biggest medical threat after a disaster

The biggest threat after a major disaster is the spread of communicable disease(s).  These can quickly ravage through a community or family group.

Drinking questionable water, eating improperly prepared food and inappropriate disposable of human waste will cause more avoidable deaths than gunfights.  Don’t believe me, just take a look at the streets of Los Angeles where there is a growing problem with diseases borne by both flea and feces.  They have experienced outbreaks of typhoid, typhus, hepatitis A, tuberculosis, and staph just for starters.

To combat this triangle of disease there needs to be close supervision of the proper sterilization of water along with the proper cooking and handling of food.   The importance of handwashing cannot be overlooked in either endeavor.

If you don’t have working plumbing than one or more latrines need to built quickly, and have handwashing stations set up close by.  A simple hole that is just a few feet deep works fine if you are on the move and don’t expect to be at your location for more than a day or two.  But if you are setting up for a long term stay then a pit latrine is a must.

A pit latrine must be located at least a 100ft away from your water and should be in an area that is not prone to flooding.  It should also be located downwind from your kitchen area.  A pit latrine should be at least 8 -10ft deep and 3-4 ft in diameter and lined with rocks or brick, especially if the soil is loose or crumbles easily.  

The importance of handwashing to keeping your family or group healthy can not be overstated.  The Center for Disease Control has this to say about the importance of handwashing:

Handwashing with soap removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
  • Removing germs through handwashing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.
  • Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Handwashing education in the community:
  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%

In addition to handwashing, the use of gloves and masks can also help reduce the spread of communicable disease.   Especially when treating someone who is sick or you are dealing with a possible epidemic.

Separating sick and healthy individuals is also important and in severe cases may require that 1-2 caregivers be quarantined with the sick in order to keep the rest of the group as healthy as possible.

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