Soap and Water

Minor cuts and scrapes happen from time to time. Though any open wound is a potential site for infection, we really don’t think much about the small ones other than their initial pain and the inconveniences they cause us as they heal. Most of us live in a world that is relatively safe and even minor wounds don’t happen very often. When they do, the simple steps we take to care for them plus our daily hygiene practices prevent most infections. In rare situations, when the injury becomes infected often the biggest hassle is finding the time to get to the doctor’s office for prescribed antibiotics.

But in a long-term disaster/collapse situation, a minor wound–if neglected–could become deadly. In that scenario, there are several things that will aggravate the chances of getting an infection: 1) We will be doing more ‘dirty’ jobs, i.e. working outside, building fires, handling animals; 2) We will be doing a lot more manual labor, i.e. cutting wood, cooking over a fire, building and repairing, and other activities that can easily lead to cuts and scrapes; and 3) Clean water and basic hygiene will not be as accessible or convenient, i.e. no running water in the house. So a relatively minor wound that is ignored while you continue working gets more contaminated; then the wound isn’t thoroughly washed out because clean water is saved for drinking. In a short period of time that wound can develop a serious infection.

What is the best way to clean and care for a minor wound? Common answers frequently include hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, but not only do both of these harm the healthy tissue they can also delay wound healing. I’ve even heard someone say that ‘alcohol must be the best because it burns the most when you apply it’ – it burns because you are killing the exposed healthy tissue.

The best way to clean a minor wound, and prevent infection, is to remove all debris from the wound with cool, clean running water (this could also be poured or squirted from a container) and a mild soap. Then prior to bandaging it, lightly apply (think chapstick application) petroleum jelly on the wound. This will help the healing process by keeping the wound moist and clean and stop the bandage from sticking. Using antibiotic ointments is unnecessary, they add unneeded cost and may help create more antibiotic resistant bacteria; their main benefit is the same as the petroleum jelly.

Remember there’s a fine line between tough and stupid. The only medical aid available might be from your own group. So plan ahead to minimize injury: wear protective gloves, long pants and long sleeves, and, if appropriate, a helmet and/or goggles. When you do get a minor wound (and you will), make it a priority to clean and dress it as soon as possible. Be sure to know where the nearest first aid kit is kept, have water available for washing, and keep soap in your preps.

Even if you’ve done everything right, there’s a chance infection will occur. The type of infection common in these type wounds is cellulitis. Cellulitis, if not treated by antibiotics, “can cause a life-threatening condition known as sepsis”. This is described by Dr. Bones on his Doom and Bloom blog post, Cellulitis: An Epidemic in a Collapse. I recommend reading it. Next Monday I’ll explain what I’ve learned, and recently done myself, to acquire a stockpile of ‘collapse medicine’ antibiotics.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

But Water is Heavy!

five basic needs: 1) food, 2) WATER, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy

One gallon. Per person. Per day.

As important as food is, you can only live three to four days without access to clean drinking water. The ‘average’ adult human body is composed of approximately 60% water, the brain 75%. Each day adults must replace about 1/2 gallon of water (approximately 2 1/2 liters). More is needed for cooking and cleaning. Even more is needed during exertion or warm weather.

That is why emergency agencies recommend storing one gallon of water, per person per day, for three days.

Before a disaster strikes, water is an easy thing to acquire and store. It is cheap and available. To get your recommended three-day emergency supply, you can buy commercially bottled water for less than $1 a gallon. Do the math of what is needed for your family, spend the money and put it somewhere safe and you’re done. If you want to fill your own containers, it’s best to use clean, food grade plastic containers. Two liter soda bottles work very well, avoid using milk jugs (they’re not meant for longer storage). If the containers are clean and the water is clean there is no need to add bleach.

For a longer emergency situation there’s only so much water you can store, and access to additional safe drinking water is unreliable. Or what if you’re away from home–obviously there’s only so much you can carry?

But one gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds. For a family of four to have the recommended amount, that’s 12 gallons or 99.6 pounds of water. No big deal if it just sits on your shelf in the basement. But what if we have to go somewhere? But what if we have to walk to get there? We still need water.

There may be water available, how do you ensure ‘clean drinking water’?

There are three common ways of purifying water: boiling, chemicals, and filters. Start by removing suspended particle, straining through a barrier (coffee filter, cheese cloth, even a clean shirt) or letting them settle to the bottom. Then pour that water into a clean container to purify.

A regularly asked question is “How long do I boil the water?” This is important because, if we are in a situation to boil water, we may only have a finite amount of fuel available to burn. This question is best answered by explaining that water above 185° F (85° C) will kill all pathogens within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point (212° F) from 185° F, all pathogens will be killed and the water will be safe to drink. Bottom line: heat to rolling boil, let cool, it’s safe. Boiling is the best, safest, time-tested way to purify water. Done correctly it will work every time.

Chlorine bleach, is the most common household purification product, but not necessarily the most effective (bleach begins to break down within a year). Use household bleach that contains at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite (do not use scented or color safe). Add 2 drops to a quart/liter (8 per gallon), double if water is cloudy. Purified water should have a slight bleach odor.

Iodine is more effective than bleach and, when stored correctly (out of sunlight), will last for years. It comes in either tablet or liquid form. The unpleasant taste can be countered by adding a Vitamin C powdered drink mix after the water has been treated. In liquid form it comes as Tincture of Iodine (sold in pharmacies), add several drops per quart.

All chemical water purification options require at least 20 minutes for the chemicals to do their job (longer for cold water). Be sure to loosen the cap on your water container and slosh some of the treated water onto the threads of the cap and bottle to eliminate outside contaminates.

There are many types of commercial water filters available. In preparing for a collapse situation, purchasing a family size, quality filter (with ceramic filters) will provide the best long-term solution.

Lastly I wanted to mention solar water disinfection (SODIS). This method disinfects water using only sunlight and clear plastic food grade (PET) containers (2 liter soda bottles work best). Using clean bottles, expose to direct sunlight for at least six hours (or two days under very cloudy conditions) to purify.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)