This article originally appeared in Issue 6 of our magazine.

Warning! This article is meant to be a quick overview and not a detailed guide on microbes. To learn more on how to defend against pathogens, consult a licensed medical professional or accredited healthcare agency.

So, you’ve stocked everything you need in your underground bunker, from 50 pounds of Spam to 5,000 rounds of 5.56mm ammo. You even have a few boxes of silver rounds just in case werewolves emerge after the nuclear fallout. As Yanni’s greatest hits gloriously flow from the built-in speakers, you have peace of mind because you feel nothing can touch you in your supplied and well-fortified shelter.

Little do you know that there’s an entire army of marauders just waiting for the right opportunity to burst in, take over, and ultimately destroy you — and you’ll never spot them coming. “Impossible,” you say. “I have thermal scopes, night-vision goggles, and surveillance cameras all over my compound.” Yes, but do you have a microscope?

Microbes are single-cell or multicellular organisms — think bacteria, viruses, protozoa, etc. — that are mostly invisible to the human eye and amazingly resilient. While many of them are essential for both biodiversity and individual human health, there are plenty of microbes that are deadly pathogens. Prepping for these invisible invaders should be an essential part of anyone’s emergency response plan and survivalist agenda.

Microscopic Marauders

These little buggers can cause slight irritations…or manifest themselves into fatal conditions. Their side effects are as diverse as their types. Here are the most common pathogens:

Bacteria: These single-celled organisms are found all over Earth — even in the most treacherous places, such as thermal hot springs and your mother-in-law’s meatloaf. Amazingly, there are 10 times more bacterial cells than there are human cells in your body. There are more than 500 different types of bacteria in our digestive system alone, and they help digest food, keep the intestines healthy, and possibly even boost our immunity. Bacteria play an essential part in the chain of life. However, several strains of bacteria are highly pathogenic and can evade or overwhelm our immune system, wreaking havoc on our health.

Three Facts About Bacteria:

  1. Tap water generally has a shelf life of six months. Afterward, its chlorine additives begin to dissipate and bacteria and algae start to grow.
  2. Mobile phones have 18 times more bacteria than toilet handles.
  3. Bacteria cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to 1.

Viruses: Unlike bacteria, these microbes don’t possess all the machinery to replicate themselves (some scientists consider them nonliving); thus they require a host cell to infect. They hijack the host cell’s machinery to make copies of themselves. Due to its dependence on a host to replicate, a viral particle in blood or mucus cannot survive for a long time outside of the body or on common surfaces, such as the floor. Many viruses require close contact or the physical exchange of bodily fluids to spread, such as HIV and the current attention grabber, Ebola.

Fungi: Another infectious organism that can be readily found among us is fungus, which includes yeast and mold. Fungus can be multicellular as well as unicellular. Some fungi produce spores that can travel in the air for long distances and remain alive for several years until prime conditions allow them to grow. These properties make it tough to completely eradicate spores from a dedicated area. Most fungi will not cause bodily harm — and some are used to make delicious goodies, like God’s gift to the world, beer. However, there are a few that can be detrimental to your health if you aren’t prepared to treat it.

Equals a Pound of Cure

The best way to deal with all these germs is prevention, and one effective method is to block the routes of transmission. Because the spread of the germs may come from inhalation, ingestion, and direct contact, here are some precautions to consider:

Sanitize: One of the most important steps in prevention involves cleaning all areas where you live, work, or hole up in. Maintaining a sanitized environment not only minimizes the numbers of microbes around, it also reduces the amount of habitable areas that can become a breeding ground for germs.

Surfaces can be scrubbed down with a solution of bleach (which contains chlorine, a highly effective germicidal agent). If you are using normal household bleach, which is normally between 5.25- and 8.25-percent chlorine, a mixture of 1 cup of household bleach with 5 gallons of water should be effective in killing bacteria and viruses. For areas where you suspect a mold infestation, it is recommended to use a ratio of 1 cup of household bleach to 1 gallon of water. The use of a 70-percent solution of alcohol as a germicidal agent is also a recommended alternative, though the downside is its higher cost compared to bleach. Plus, alcohol is flammable, so more precautions must be taken around open flames.

Sterilize: Speaking of alcohol, a key advantage (other than turning you into the life of the party) is that it can be used to sterilize any scrapes and cuts on your body. When dealing with any break of the skin and vasculature, it’s essential to maintain sterility around a wound and to prevent germs from entering the blood system. Likewise, you should consider stocking antibiotic ointments and antiseptic creams in your first-aid kits, which you should have at home, in your car, at work, in your bug-out bag, and stashed in your fallout shelter.

Gear Up: Handling and contact of blood from another person should be done while wearing protective gear, if available, such as gloves and face mask. If no protective gear is available, then take extra precautions to avoid direct exchange of blood with any open cuts and wounds that you may currently have. Covering your mouth and nose with a towel or shirt will help prevent larger droplets from entering your respiratory system. Several dangerous viral diseases are spread through infected blood, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.

Protective gear isn’t just for handling blood. Lower respiratory infection is the fourth leading cause of death in the world, so protecting your mouth, nose, and lungs can be crucial to your overall survival in a disaster situation. Simple surgical masks or painting respirators can provide some degree of protection for non-infected users. Conversely, they can impede the spread of germs by preventing an infected person from releasing aerosols of infected particles into the air. Keep in mind that these basic masks aren’t specifically designed to protect the wearer from inhaling pathogens — that task is usually reserved for specialized respirators, which can be commercially purchased. If nothing else, having everyone in your group of survivors wear masks might just help ease the eye strain of having to look at your less aesthetically pleasing teammates.

Cook and Filter: Ingestion of microbes can be prevented by cooking all meats and vegetables to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which should kill any bugs in your food. When eating fresh fruits and vegetables, make sure they are washed thoroughly with clean water. (See “Pick Your Poison” in OFFGRID’s Fall 2014 issue for more info.)

During times of strife, clean water might not be readily available. However, boiling your water before use and implementing commercially available water sterilizers and treatment tablets, which every survivalist should have on hand, can kill most of the germs in questionable water. Some sterilizers work through filtration, while others use ultra-violet light to kill the waterborne germs. Another option would be to sanitize your water for consumption using bleach. This treatment involves adding 1 teaspoon of bleach to every 5 gallons of water, making sure the bleach is mixed evenly, and letting it stand for an hour before use.

Vaccinations: The simple task of staying updated with your vaccinations can give you a lifetime of immunity from several nasty diseases. Most vaccines are administered at an early age and require no further inoculations after the initial one. That being said, the key vaccination for survivalists to maintain is the tetanus vaccination. Retaining tetanus immunity requires booster shots every 10 years during adulthood. Tetanus is a bacterium that releases a neurological toxin (one form is more commonly known as Botox, a friend to many a Hollywood star) that causes muscle spasms, lockjaw, and breathing problems. Due to tetanus growing favorably in iron when it oxidizes, the threat of accidental infection is higher around rusty objects. When you’re bugging out, watch out for nails in old fences, metallic debris on the ground, and rundown railings in humid conditions.

Treatment

No matter how well you try to avoid infection, these pests will inevitably find their way inside your body. Luckily our immune system is not alone in this fight; science has been able to create several drugs that target these intruders.

Drug NamesAlternate NamesFish Drug EquivalentTreats These Diseases
ClindamycinN/AFish CinAnthrax
Dental, bone, and joint infections
Tetanus
AmpicillinN/AFish CillinEar infection
Strep throat
Used as a general purpose antibiotic
CiprofloxacinCiproFish FloxAnthrax
Respiratory infections
Urinary tract infections
Trimethoprim/
sulfamethoxazole
BactrimFish SulfaGastro intestinal infection
Pneumonia
Urinary Tract Infection
MetronidazoleFlagylFish ZoleGiardia
Helicobacter infections
DoxycyclineN/AFish DoxyAnthrax
Lyme disease
Malaria
Pneumonia

Fighting Flus: There are several anti-viral drugs, but to date only one is really relevant to stockpile in your bunker: Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate). This drug is designed to fight influenza type A and type B, both of which can pack a mighty punch that can knock you off your feet for a few days. In fact, influenza can be lethal to the young, the old, and those who have compromised immune systems. Tamiflu can be used to alleviate or help clear this virus out of your system, so it would be wise to have it on hand if you have a family. Be aware that Tamiflu is most effective when taken within 48 hours of initial symptoms. Tamiflu still requires a prescription, but if you have some left over from a previous prescription, hold onto it. The shelf life, when stored properly at room temperature, has been tested, and the drug’s shown to be effective even six years after the stated manufacturer’s expiration date.

Fending Off Fungi: When dealing with severe fungal infections, having Fluconazole (also known as Diflucan) in your arsenal is a must. This anti-fungal medicine is used to cure a wide range of fungal diseases, such as those you might find in soil like coccidioidomycosis (“valley fever”). For the female preppers out there, Fluconazole is also highly effective in treating yeast infections, but is unfortunately completely ineffective in getting your male counterparts to put the toilet seat down after use.

Bacteria Buster: Due to the vast assortment of bacteria, there is not one omnipotent antibiotic that can kill all of them, so deciding amongst the gamut of available antibiotics used to treat bacteria can be daunting. Maintaining a selection of a few antibiotics that overlap in treatment targets will ensure that you have most of your bases covered (see the table below).

The use of antibiotics must not be abused, and should be kept to a minimum if at all possible. Misuse of these drugs can create resistant strains of bacteria that are untreatable and highly lethal. Thus, if you decide to amass a cache of antibiotics, you must be thorough in researching the appropriate use and dosage for each specific antibody. Since normal antibiotics can only be acquired through prescription, acquiring them can be difficult if you’re not actually sick. Antibiotics in powder or tablet form are available without prescription for fish and aquatic life through commercial vendors. While you might not have scales and fins, and these antibiotics might not have been manufactured for human use, sustainable off-grid survival can sometimes depend on obtaining such medications in any shape or form.

Preparing for microbial organisms may not be on top of your list when planning for SHTF situations, but overlooking them can have truly fatal consequences. By practicing proper sanitation procedures and using the right medicines for specific infections, your body can focus its physical resources on the grueling task of surviving any disaster it faces. But be aware — there’s still no known cure for zombie infections.

About the Author

Curt Lang studied microbiology and molecular genetics and is currently doing research to improve treatment for patients with brain and neural cancer. When not experimenting in the laboratory, he is an avid triathlete, photographer, and outdoor adventurer. He’s spent countless hours honing his survivalist skills.

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