A lot of information has been written about the need to have water for survival. And luckily, most people have gotten the message and either store extra water in barrels, have cases or jugs of bottled water, or have a source of fresh water than can be purified with chemicals or bleach.
Not mentioned, though, is the need to have water to use for washing your hands. Soap and water is the tried and true way to get rid of the germs lurking in our environment. But what if water is scarce with not a drop to spare? The good news is that there is an arsenal of other products that can be used to exterminate those nasty microbes.
Hand Sanitizer: Alcohol based sanitizing gels kill 99% of bacteria on contact. These gels are inexpensive, light weight, have a long shelf life and are cinch to use. For maximum effectiveness, apply the hand sanitizer to one palm then rub hands together until they are dry, making sure you cover all parts of your hands and fingers.
What’s not to like? Well, for one thing, you need to know what you are using. Look carefully at the label before you purchase a hand sanitizer and make sure the active ingredients include ethyl alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or some other variation of these item. The other important thing is to make sure that whichever of those alcohols is listed, its concentration is between 60 and 95 percent. Less than that isn’t enough to be effective.
Beware, also of homemade hand sanitizers. Unless the concentration of alcohol is 60% or more, don’t count on it for protection.
Household Disinfectant Wipes: I am not a big fan of household disinfectant wipes because they are expensive and environmentally unfriendly since they are typically over packaged and are good for a single use only. These wipes remove bacteria but do not kill it. That means if you use a wipe on a germy surface, it needs to be tossed since using it again on a second surface would merely spread the germs around.
Bleach: I don’t think you would want to use bleach on your hands but for general household sanitation, bleach is a winner. A good dilution is about 3/4 tsp. per quart of water. More than that is a waste and not necessarily better. Just be careful or you might accidentally tie dye your clothing, your towels, and your carpeting with splatters of bleach. Also be sure to rinse well since bleach is very caustic.
Tip? Pour some bleach in to a refillable, leak proof squeeze bottle and keep it under your sink. You can easily mix up a batch of bleach and water in a small cup for immediate use without fear of drips or spills – and without a lot of waste.
Moist Hand Towelettes: Those little towelettes that come in individually wrapped packets are great in that you can carry them in a pocket, a wallet, or even tucked in to your hiking boots. Just make sure that the active ingredient meets the 60% or more alcohol criteria. My favorites are Sani-Hands with 65.9% ethanol.
Warning: these towelettes do have a shelf life. This is due to the packaging. The last thing you want to do is to store away a case of these little packets for SHTF only to open one up and find it is dried up. Or worse, it may clean your hands but not get rid of the germs. One thing I did was call the Sani-hands folks using the 800 number on the box and asked about the shelf life. They told me “at least two years”. I took out my Sharpie and wrote a two year expiration date on the box so I could easily rotate them to the garbage if any were left when the time came.
Vinegar: The Heinz corporation says that straight 5% vinegar will kill 80% of the germs and virus. Heinz says they can’t make the claim on the bottle that it kills bacteria because of the EPA laws. As silly as it seems, the EPA requires disinfectants to be registered as a pesticide. Still, in a survival situation, vinegar is great to have on hand since in can be used in many ways. It is less caustic than bleach and does not loose potency over time.
Antibacterial Soap: Don’t pay extra for antibacterial soap. They are no better than regular soap and are rumored to promote bacterial resistance. Why take a chance?
OK I get it. We need to sanitize. But what about those germs?
Germs are found all over the world, in all kinds of places. The four major types are: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Not all germs will make us sick but a lot of them are detriments to our health and some may even cause death. Here is a simple primer.
Bacteria: These are tiny, one-celled creatures that get nutrients from their environments in order to live. In some cases that environment is a human body. Bacteria can reproduce outside of the body or within the body as they cause infections. Some infectious bacteria causes include sore throats (tonsillitis or strep throat), ear infections, cavities, and pneumonia. To further complicate things. not all bacteria are bad. For example, good bacteria live in our intestines and help us use the nutrients in the food we eat and make waste from what’s left over.
Viruses: A virus needs to be inside living cells to grow and reproduce. The place where a virus lives is called a “host”. In both humans and animals, viruses can get inside the body where they grow and spread, causing sickness. Viruses cause chickenpox, measles, flu, and many other diseases.
Fungi: These are multi-celled, plant-like organisms that get their nutrition from plants, people, and animals. They like live in damp, warm places, and while many fungi are not dangerous to healthy people, they can still cause health problems. An example of something caused by fungi is athlete’s foot.
Protozoa: These are one-cell organisms that love moisture and often spread diseases through water. Some protozoa cause intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea, nausea, and belly pain.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa – a motley crew that is best avoided if you want to maintain your health in a less than sanitary, survival situation. The best way to avoid these germs is to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. But if water, or soap is not available, please use hand sanitizer, wipes, rubbing alcohol or even some bleach and water to clean your hands.
Do it every time you cough or sneeze, before you eat or prepare foods, after you use the bathroom, after you touch animals or pets, and after you touch objects in a public place.
Tell me again why this is important
When public utilities and sanitation systems go down, germs breed and spread rapidly. Remember Katrina? What about the Haiti earthquake? Maintaining your personal cleanliness and hygiene is going to be key to insuring your safety, your health and your ability to fend for yourself.
But even more important is the need to make keeping your hands clean a habit day in and day out. Every day. The movie Contagion notwithstanding, the likelihood of a global pandemic is real. It happened for centuries with Smallpox, it happened in 1918 with the Spanish flu and in more recent times, it happened with SARS and the swine H1N1 flu. Who’s to say when it will happen again?
In a true pandemic, a virus can infect people on every continent with lightning speed, In the United States, we would like to think that CDC and our nation’s top security agencies will have protocols in place when that happens but when push comes to shove, we cannot rely on that level of support.
It is really up to you to be prepared and increase your chance of survival by practicing good hygiene and stocking up on hand sanitizers, bleach, and sanitizing towelettes now. Get used to washing your hands frequently and be sure to incorporate other sanitation methods in to your daily life so that they become a habit.
The Final Word
Steering clear of the things that can spread germs is the best way to protect yourself. But when contact with germs – and cooties – is unavoidable, being prepared is you best line of defense.
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