Many things will change in a SHTF  scenario but one of the most life altering will be the lack of 24/7 medical care. Many people today take little to no hands-on care of their own personal health, and they are more than happy to let the doctors and nurses at their local doctor’s office or hospital take care of it for them. Unfortunately, the day when local healthcare services will not be available could be closer then a lot of us think. With the ObamaCare debacle in full swing, it’s high time each and every one of us begins to take an active role in the management of our health.
As has been mentioned many times on the Survival Blog, making sure you are in shape is the single best thing you can do for your long and short term health. Everything in your body works better when you are in shape. You will be able to work better, heal faster and avoid all sorts of health problems from heart attacks to back injuries. Everybody should also get some sort of medical training. I recommend that every prepper take a basic EMT  course. You can usually find them at your local fire station or at convenient locations throughout your state. Being an EMT gives you a good all around foundation in medicine. You will be able to control bleeding, set bones, and give basic meds. You can also volunteer with your local fire department which is an amazing way to meet the locals and help out your community. It also gives you a great in with the local emergency services which will come in very handy WTSHTF.
When most people think of medical problems they might encounter in a grid down situation, they usually think of broken bones, gun shot wounds and uncontrolled bleeding. The reality is usually much less exciting, but just as deadly. One of the single biggest causes of death in areas without medical care, such as third world countries, is diarrhea. According to the WHO , diarrhea causes 4% of all deaths. There are nearly 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal disease every year. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. It kills over 760,000 children every year. The worst part is that a significant proportion of diarrheal disease can be prevented through safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation. In a world without clean water or food refrigeration, our country could quickly degenerate into a situation not unlike third world countries.
The single biggest cause of death from diarrhea is from dehydration. When a bad bacteria gets into the large intestine, the body tries to move things on through quickly. The small intestine comes first and is where the body extracts most of its nutrients. Then the food matter travels into the large intestine, which is where the body absorbs most of its liquid and electrolytes. Since the body can tell that there’s bacteria in the large intestine it tries to keep everything moving through, so it doesn’t have have time to absorb liquid. Instead of absorbing for example, 90% of the liquid passing throughout the colon, now it only has time to absorb 10% of the liquid passing through. This leads to acute dehydration and potentially death within several days.
So, what can you do about diarrhea? First, as with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As was said above, most diarrhea is caused by infectious agents, so you need to be very careful about the food and water you consume in case they contain bacteria. All water should be boiled and then put through a Berkey water filter. This will both kill most bacterial/viral particles that maybe in the water as well as removing any contaminants such as pesticide residue. It tougher to make sure food is safe to eat. Of course mold or decomposition is a dead give away, but it’s also important to take special consideration of food that’s left out for any amount of time, even if there is no external sign of spoilage. If you are unsure about the condition of the food you can drink a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar is what I recommend) mixed with ½ a cup of water after each meal. Apple cider vinegar has great anti bacterial properties and drinking a small amount after a meal has shown in some studies to help avoid food born illness.
Realistically, you will not be be able to avoid all bacteria, and eventually you or your loved ones will get diarrhea. How do you properly care for this illness? The first issue that diarrhea causes, which is dehydration, is easy to remedy. Give the patient lots of fluids! The second, loss of electrolytes, is more serious. First off, what are electrolytes and why are they a big deal? Electrolytes are chemicals that become ions when they dissolve into a solution and become able to conduct electricity. The proper ratio of fluid to electrolytes is critical to the proper functioning of cells and organs. There are four main electrolytes that are important for us to consider, sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate.
Sodium is a major positive ion in the fluid outside of cells. Sodium regulates the total amount of water in the body and so an imbalance in sodium results in either to much or too little water in your system, either of which can be fatal. The movement of sodium in the brain, nervous system, and muscles helps in generating the electrical signals that these systems rely on for their operation and communication. An imbalance in sodium can cause catastrophic organ failure and death.
An elevated level ratio of sodium in relation to water in the blood is called hypernatremia, this can be caused by many different factors including kidney disease and dehydration, but one of the very common causes is diarrhea. Since the body is trying so hard to move everything in the large intestine along to help get rid of the virus, it cannot absorb enough liquid and hypernatremia results. A decreased level of sodium in relation to water in the blood is called hyponatremia, and can be caused by many things including congestive heart failure or by drinking lots of liquid (water) without replenishing your sodium. This is common in athletes and is why drinks such as gatorade are popular as they replenish sodium in the body. A normal blood sodium level is 135 – 145 milliEquivalents/liter (mEq/L), but levels are hard to measure unless you get a doctor-ordered lab test.
The next important electrolyte is potassium. Potassium is the most important positive ion inside cells. Potassium regulates the heart beat and muscle function, as you can imagine both critically important to the body. Extremes in the potassium levels can effect the nervous system and increase the chances of irregular heart beats especially in older people or people with preexisting heart conditions. Again, although hard to measure without a doctor ordered test the normal potassium blood levels are 3.5 – 5.0 milliEquivalents/liter (mEq/L).
Chloride is the major negative ion in the fluid outside cells and in the blood. Like sodium, chloride helps the body maintain the proper balance of fluid and so extremes in the blood can have deleterious or fatal consequences.
Last but not least is Bicarbonate. Bicarbonate ions act as buffers to maintain normal levels of acidity in the blood and other bodily fluids.
Diarrhea causes all these electrolyte levels to get out of whack. Sodium and Chloride levels often increase while Potassium and Bicarbonate levels frequently decrease. The result is that many of the most important chemicals for the proper functioning of the body are not in the proper proportions, and this causes the body to begin shutting down. Not good, especially when you are already compromised by a bacteria which is the root cause of all this.
So, what can you do to prepare for diarrhea WTSHTF? The most important thing you can do in the absence of medication to eradicate the infectious cause, and a lab to properly measure blood electrolyte levels, is to replenish the bodies store of fluids and electrolytes. Preppers could store commercially available drinks such as Gatorade, especially the powder form but while such drinks are okay at replenishing liquid and electrolytes, they can be relatively expensive, and they have a lot of artificial colors and flavors which have bad long term health effects. I recommend making a homemade electrolyte drink which is both easy to make with readily available ingredients, and will provide a good balance of electrolyte and nutrients that your sick body needs.
The perfect recipe will have lots of water, salt, and citrus in it. This is the recipe which I recommend, but feel free to experiment and modify it as you see fit.
Electrolyte replacement drink:
1 liter of water
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of lemon juice
¼ cup of lime juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1/4 cup of dried, shredded coconut (optional)
In a survival situation there are much bigger ramifications to eating food that is tainted because the result will be a lot more severe then a quick trip to the doctor and a couple of sick days in bed. If you or your loved one gets diarrhea, the best thing you can do is to give small doses of diluted apple cider vinegar three times a day, and keep hydrated with water and an electrolyte replacement.