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Avoiding Illness in a Survival Situation

Posted by on 8/23/2012 to First Aid and Medical

Maybe you find yourself in a real survival situation, whether you're in the middle of the wilderness or coping with some type of urban disaster, or maybe you're simply challenging yourself with an extended expedition. If you get sick on a 5 day backpacking trip, this could easily turn into a real survival situation. Sometimes illness can be more debilitating than an injury. Even something as minor as a cold, flu, or respiratory infection can be just enough to drain you of the energy you need to survive. Your ability to travel, think clearly, maintain sufficient nutrition and hydration levels can all be compromised when a simple virus or bacteria takes over your body. There are ways to treat this situation, but it is best to take measures to avoid getting sick altogether.

11 Tips to Keep Yourself Healthy and Avoid Getting Sick

1. Make sure your water is clean! - The most common cause of sickness in outdoor and emergency situations is by consuming contaminated water. This is possibly one of the most emphasized aspects of survival, do not drink unsafe water. You should know how to properly filter and sanitize any water sources you come across. Remember, just because the water is clear, moving, frozen, etc... doesn't mean it is free of contamination.

Also be sure to avoid cross contamination. For example, maybe you fill your bottle in the nearby stream and use your SteriPEN device to purify it, however the cap is wet and was not exposed to the SteriPEN UV light, so the water on the cap contains an infectious organism and you place the cap back on the bottle and drink from the dirty cap. In short, just be careful!

2. Properly dispose of waste. It should go without saying that you do not want to defecate or urinate near your sleeping grounds. Make sure you relieve yourself far enough away from anywhere you might travel through if you decide to forage or hunt and always cover up your wastes with some dirt. Don't lose track of these locations!

3. Your hands are often the dirtiest and most disease covered parts of the body. We touch nearly everything with our hands first. So don't put them in your mouth, rub your eyes, pick your nose and do anything that could expose your dirty fingers to vulnerable entry points on your body for germs unless you wash up first. But again, refer to #1 about cross contaminating dirty water. If you wash your hands with bacteria filled water and rub your eyes, you might as well have drank the dirty water. 

Avoid biting your nails or picking your cuticles if you have a habit of that... Little hang nails and small cuts can provide an easy entry point for germs, and your fingers are already very germ-ridden.

4. Clean and disinfect any eating utensils immediately using boiling water. Do not let the food residue build up and form a gross scum or mold between the tongs of the fork or bottom of your cup. The longer it sits, the harder it will be to clean it.

5. Wash your mouth regularly. The gums and throat are another easy entry point for germs. Brushing your teeth is the best method to keep your mouth clean. If you don't have toothpaste or a brush, the very least you could do is rinse your mouth very thoroughly with water after every time you consume something. The constant rinsing will help prevent build up of bacteria and gunk from food. If you feel plaque build up then you should scrape off what you can using your finger nails, but be careful not to cut your gums and make sure your hand is clean and use clean water.

6. Avoid bug and insect bites. The best methods to do this include using repellents, mosquito nets, improvised bug netting and wearing long, protective clothing. Bug bites can get infected and provide an easy entry point for disease, in addition to directly getting infected by the bug itself.

7. Avoid wet clothes and stay thermo regulated. Keeping dry and warm (or cool if you're in a hot climate) is extremely important. Cold itself doesn't make you sick, but it certainly weakens your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infection.

8. Do not share personal items with other people whether they are sick or not. Just because someone is not sick or shows no symptoms, it doesn't mean they are not a carrier. Some items include water containers, clothing, towels, hygiene products and so on.

9. Remove waste materials from camp site. This includes food scraps, dirty clothing, refuse and so on.

10. Get enough sleep. Try to accumulate at least 7-8 hours of sleep per day. If you have trouble sleeping for that length of time, supplement your sleep hours with a mid-day or later morning nap as needed. Lacking sleep can compromise your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection.

11. Eat healthy and enough. Malnutrition is the leading cause for the body's inability to fight illness. Not only do you need the energy in the form of calories, but you also need the vitamins and minerals. Don't skip meals or binge on meals either. Spread out your rations if supplies are low rather than eating too much too soon.

Thank you for reading about How to Not Get Sick in the Wilderness. Feel free to comment and leave suggestions or questions. We strongly encourage discussion and sharing of information and ideas.

Skip's Survival Gear Recommendations: First Aid Kits - Mosquito Netting - Micropur Tablets

Cliff''s Survival Gear Recommendations: Hygiene Kit - Escape Bivvy - Coghlans Folding Stove
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