(Disclaimer: non-medical, non-expert author)
I spent nearly eight months in Mexico as a graduate student. One weekend a group of us took a trip to Guanajuato to visit the historic city, enjoy some good food, and see the silver mines and natural mummies. I was not exactly a veteran international traveler, but I was not a rookie either, having traveled several times to my wife’s home country of Venezuela, including trips to areas well outside of the larger cities. I was aware of the hazards of international travel, from petty crime to yellow fever to unsanitary water and food. I had also been warned about all the precautions I should take in Mexico. I had it down pat. However, after a day of touring the mines and walking around the city, we emerged from a mine tour to see a welcoming road-side stand selling homemade ice cream.
I was so thirsty that my experience in international travel and all the warnings I had heard just weren’t present in my mind as I ordered a cup of the ice cream. I think I ordered two different flavors. It was awesome. It was also contaminated. A couple of days later, I was laying on a tile floor with salmonella enteritis and giardiasis, wracked with fever, chills, and suffering through a severe bout of bloody diarrhea. The lesson was learned.
Why We Should Care About This Third World Problem
Before I go on, I want to talk a little about why this issue is important. Basically, we spend too much and work too hard building up our preps to end up sharing them with uninvited guests. Also, some of the symptoms can be very compromising in a grid-down or post-collapse situation. Some of the symptoms of parasites include: diarrhea (which can lead to dehydration), eating more, no desire for food, depression, pain and discomfort, weight loss, and more. In some rare instances it can be fatal, especially to immuno-compromised individuals. If malaria were to make a comeback in the U.S., the prospect of fatalities becomes much more relevant. So, can you imagine a group of uninvited guests intercepting your food before it gets to the table? Can you imagine these guests introducing toxins and draining your energy and will while doing so? If I told you a person was doing this, you would feel within your rights to initiate violence against that individual. What are you doing about the microscopic ones?
Another word of caution: in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world, we think of this as a third-world problem. Yet, there are large portions of the U.S. population chronically infected with some of these organisms. In a grid-down or post-collapse situation, these asymptomatic chronic infections will likely flare up in those individuals. In addition, some of the conditions that allow these organisms to get into the water and food supply in less developed countries may become prevalent in the developed world. I will get to some of these issues in more detail in a moment. This is a risk for which we should be preparing.
Potential Post-Collapse Sources of Parasitic Infections
What got me thinking about this? Well, I still travel frequently to countries in Latin America. I recently contracted a parasitic infection, even though I have years of experience along with the intuition that comes from those years of experience, I generally eat at reputable restaurants, and I probably have a little immunity built up over the years. This got me thinking about how I would deal with a parasitic infection post collapse. When I started thinking about it, I realized that the chance of contracting an infection, even with robust sanitation practices, is exponentially higher post collapse, even if our preps are perfect. While I focus on parasites, contamination usually includes multiple types of microorganisms, so the recommendations here should extend to bacterial and viral infections as well.
- Raw sewage: In and around population centers, if the grid is down, the water and sewage systems will fail. Raw sewage will literally run in the streets in populated areas. This will drastically increase the potential for inadvertent contamination through fecal matter that can travel through the air when dried out and into waterways through run off. This could affect even rural areas downstream. Within your retreat, if not properly disposed of, risk will increase.
- Insect born parasites: Post collapse our exposure to insects will increase. Insect control measures will cease, so insect populations will increase. We will be outside more, and in many areas we will need to leave windows open to cool living spaces. Insects can spread parasites through prior contact with sewage and then contact with food or through insect bites (blood meals).
- Livestock: Those with retreats that include livestock will likely have carriers in close proximity. Those caring for the livestock will have more contact with various bodily fluids and fecal matter that can transmit disease.
- Wild Game: Wild game meat may be contaminated, so eating it may be unhealthy or hazardous. Those that hunt for food will be more likely to come in contact with bodily fluids that can carry parasites. Meats not cooked fully can transmit disease. Since many of us will be harvesting wild animals the probability of infection will be higher.
- Asymptomatic carriers: The CDC notes that up to 60 million of the U.S. population are chronically infected with toxoplasmosis, as one example. Many people are carriers without symptoms. During a grid-down or post-collapse situation, the stress and other vagaries of the circumstances could weaken immune systems enough for some of the infections to show symptoms. Also, the fecal matter of these individuals will have the organisms present and could infect others.
- Manure-based fertilizer: Those who will be using their infected animal manure to fertilize their gardens will potentially introduce these organisms into their fresh food supply.
- Inattention due to other priorities: Coming out of the mine in Mexico, my thirst made me practically desperate to get something cold and wet. Even though I knew consciously that eating homemade ice cream from a road side stand in Mexico was not a good idea, my thirst impulse at the moment overrode good sense. How much more likely is it that we forget something in a sanitation protocol during the stressful post collapse or that some situation we didn’t anticipate might create a break in our defenses?
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
As a regular reader of Survival Blog, I know that most of us are focused on sanitation, water, and food storage and preparation that would prevent contamination. That is the first line of defense. Taking each of the above examples in turn, I want to suggest ways to prevent/prepare for those scenarios:
- Raw sewage: The easiest thing is to stay away from and upstream of population centers. If that is not possible now, then have a plan. The lack of sanitation would be a good reason to bug out. If in or near population centers, use particulate masks when outside and fuller coverage if available. This would be like a biological attack in some regards, so some preps for pandemic might apply here, like the coveralls made by 3M. Have established protocols for sanitizing clothing and other materials exposed to the contaminants, before they are introduced into your living and especially food preparation areas. Use air filtration indoors. Fully sanitize all water used for cleaning and preparing food, as well as for personal hygiene and cleaning food preparation implements and surfaces. Lastly, have basic preparation for how to dispose of human waste so you are not a contributor to this problem. I don’t know what to recommend to someone in an apartment complex or other situations with no land at all; however, even a little bit of land could contain a composting toilet setup with appropriate space for fully composting the waste.
- Insect borne parasites: What do you have in your preps to prevent proliferation of insect populations in and around your retreat? There are some basics, like using mosquito dunks in standing water or eliminating standing water, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Using screens on windows and doors is wise, especially around food storage and preparation areas. If you are bugging out, a mosquito net to sleep under would be advisable. Avoiding contact with vectors by using repellents and cover, inspecting oneself for ticks and other evidence of contact after being outside are two other wise measures to implement. I am not an advocate of strong chemical pesticides; however, it probably makes sense to have some on hand in case of a major plague of these types of pests. (A recent post to the blog covered this.)
- Livestock: The main issue here is to not cross contaminate the humans with any parasites that might be in the fecal matter of the livestock. Keeping specific areas where those involved in the care of livestock can clean up is an easy first step. Keeping stalls and other areas where the animals are clean and dry is another. Keeping the herd or flock healthy to begin with is also a good barrier to infection and transmission. Those that have these animals in their plans for the future should have treatment measures set aside to deal with an infection. Diatomaceous earth is used for deworming many animals and will keep indefinitely, if kept dry.
- Wild Game: Many of these animals carry parasites of different kinds. Properly slaughtering and butchering the animal will prevent fouling of the meat with feces or urine, which is key here. Properly disposing of the gut pile can eliminate a source of future contamination. Finally, cooking the meat fully prior to consumption will prevent most contamination. Harvest animals in season. There is a reason we have a season for harvesting animals, and this is it. Another issue that is worth mentioning is controlling predator populations. Animals that are injured by wolves, coyotes, and other predators can become more susceptible to infection or when killed, the carcass can be a source of infection. Controlling predator populations sufficiently to keep the herds healthy and abundant will pay off in more ways than one.
- Asymptomatic carriers: Who are they? They might be you or a close family member. I think one of the best and most important preps for any of us is to take care of health issues today, while there is still access to that level of care. Research it a little, and see if perhaps you are suffering unknowingly from some infection that can be cleared up now. This is the best way to prevent becoming a carrier yourself. When I became ill in Mexico, the doctor told me de-parasite myself every six months while in country. I carried a small stock of the medicine he prescribed and still do. In my experience, medical practitioners suggest that all members of a family be treated at the same time, even if not all family members are ill. This is because living together makes it very difficult to avoid communicating the disease. Work with family members on strict sanitation practices. Many people don’t wash their hands when they go to the bathroom. Stand aside in a public restroom and watch how many people walk out without taking care of this basic sanitary practice. I mentioned earlier using sanitary water to wash up before meals. While gray water can be used to handle a lot of cleaning tasks, it is worth the additional security to make sure you are not inadvertently introducing organisms into your food supply because you used water that was not sanitary. (I am not going to get into water sanitation methods, as that topic is covered extensively elsewhere in the blog.)
- Manure based fertilizer: Many recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have been caused by contamination from manure, both purposefully applied and inadvertent. Fully composted manure is generally safe to use on your garden. However, if you have no experience with composting, you might not want to trust your first attempts at processing manure this way. Untreated manure can be applied, but there needs to be an interval between application and harvest. According to organic standards, three or four months prior to harvest is permitted.
- Inattention due to other priorities: We are always seeing preppers refer to training, practicing, and drilling with their preps. This holds for the things mentioned here. If you don’t have a protocol for decontaminating and sanitizing, then get one. Practice it. Become more rigorous in your hand washing and cleanliness, especially around food prep areas. Don’t assume that clear, clean-looking water is sanitary. Make sure you know your water purification equipment and chemicals and how long is needed to sanitize a volume of water. This one is the hardest to prevent because when we have reached our extremity in fatigue and stress, perhaps fear for our lives, these things may seem less urgent. There may be times when chancing it is the best decision; however, our effectiveness in the future stresses will be diminished if we have compromised our health. What if you were so thirsty you just drank the water without waiting for the iodine or chlorine to take effect?
Treatment: When Prevention Fails
There are three main types of parasites: helminths (worms), protozoa, ectoparasites. The worms are larger, multi-celled organisms and can be seen by the naked eye when mature. They live inside the host. Protozoa are microscopic and live inside the host and cause giardiasis, as one example. The ectoparasites infect humans through biting us or feeding off of our skin. Lice, mosquitos, and ticks are some examples. While the most deadly parasitic infections are less common in the U.S., we should not feel secure that this will always be so (just ask the IPCC). Malaria was prevalent historically in Northern Europe and in New England, in addition to more temperate climates.
Many of us probably have medicinal herb gardens and perhaps some antibiotics that have been stored just in case. However, how many of us have any knowledge of or preps for parasitic infections? Other than pinworm treatments, all of these drugs require a prescription in the U.S. Some drugs used in veterinary medicine can be used in humans as well, which is a well-covered topic on the blog. In other countries, especially where these infections are more common, some of the drugs are available over the counter. In order to avoid the appearance of giving medical advice, which I most certainly am not qualified to do, I will not mention specifics. However, the classes of drugs used to treat protozoa are generally effective against the larger ones and vice versa, based on some basic web research I did in preparing this article. This is generally true but not specifically true, and it is important to match the drug to the infection. Based on your own research and consultation with medical providers, it might be reasonable to add some of these drugs to your preps, if practical and legal to do where you live.
As to herbs, there are a number of plants that have antiparasitic properties. Most could be grown in a green house, at the very least, in most parts of the U.S. Here is a partial list of some herbs commonly used as natural remedies for parasites: wormwood, cloves, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and turmeric. There are others that are used as well as commercially available formulas that combine different herbs, some formulas target certain types of parasites. Additionally, the previously mentioned diatomaceous earth can also be taken internally according to alternative practitioners. Learning to grow and use the herbs and/or stockpiling remedies may be a viable alternative to acquiring and storing the medicines.
In conclusion, these parasitic infections can be severely debilitating and even fatal. If you are stockpiling guns and ammunition to protect your family and preps from 2-legged predators but not protecting them from parasites, there may be a gap in your preps. Hopefully this article will give you a start. Do some more research and devise a plan to keep these little guys out.
wonderful article. very through. answered all my questions