In SHTF scenarios, professional medical care will be very hard to find. You are likely to have to manage by yourself for a while. In general, preppers understand the need for medical prepping. Many preppers stock up on first aid supplies and antibiotics which is smart. Some preppers also take first aid courses, even smarter.
I want to encourage people to take their medical prepping to the next level. As a physician, I think a really important step in medical prepping is getting vaccinated. Surprised? Let me tell you about some of my big SHTF concerns: tetanus and hepatitis A infections.
Risk of Tetanus
The bacteria that cause tetanus infections are in the soil all around us. Any injury that opens your skin is a possible way for the bacteria to enter you and start an infection. The proverbial story of “getting tetanus from stepping on a rusty nail” is correct, but it is the type of wound that is the issue, not the rust.
The tetanus bacteria cannot grow in the presence of oxygen, so a deep narrow wound such as a puncture is the perfect place for these bacteria to fester. Any deep cut to your skin puts you at risk of developing a tetanus infection. Even a scratch to the eye can allow a tetanus infection to develop because these bacteria also love to grow in wet environments.
Right now, tetanus infections in the US are extremely rare. This is because physicians are very proactive about vaccinating people to prevent tetanus infections. In the third world, where vaccines and modern medical care are not available, thousands of people still die of tetanus every year. That will be our future if we lose our high-quality medical services here in the US.
An active tetanus infection, also known as “lock jaw,” is a terrible, painful, deadly condition. The infection begins when the bacteria enter the skin or eye. There is a delay before the signs of an infection appear; the delay can last anywhere from 4 days to several months. When the bacteria are happily growing in your body, they release a toxin into your blood. This toxin migrates into your nerves where it triggers spasms of your muscles.
Typically, the first sign of a tetanus infection is a stiffness of your jaw, caused by spasms of the facial muscles. Gradually more and more of your muscles will spasm randomly and intermittently. These spasms can last for minutes at a time and can be so severe that your bones break. All of your muscles can be involved and the spasms keep occurring for months if you live that long.
There is no cure for tetanus. No antibiotics can help at all. You have to tough it out through intensive care, round the clock nursing, possibly a ventilator and lots of injectable medications for the spasms and pain. Even with the best of care, 10% of people with tetanus will die.
After a SHTF event, we will no longer have the best of care and the frequency of death will be much, much higher. I am not exaggerating the severity of tetanus infections; pretty much everyone who gets a tetanus infection will die a horrible death if they can not reach advanced medical care and reach it quickly,
The great news is that tetanus is easily preventable! Tetanus vaccines will give you 10 years of protection. Both of the current tetanus vaccines are very safe and very effective. It is true that you can get tetanus vaccine up to 2 days after an injury and you will be protected from an infection. This fact leads many people to get the vaccine only when they “need it.”
This approach works when the vaccine is easily available. During a disaster, finding a medical facility that still has tetanus vaccine in under 2 days might be impossible.
Risk of Hepatitis A
Another vaccine to consider is the hepatitis A vaccine. Currently, hepatitis A virus is only rarely found in the US. This is because we have great sanitation and chlorine in our water that easily kills the virus. Hepatitis A virus is extremely robust; it can survive in the environment for months, even in freezing conditions or in salt water.
I have no idea how common hepatitis A virus may become if our public utilities are not functioning. This virus is very contagious and spreads quickly. That is why I am concerned about the possibility of a large outbreak of hepatitis A during a social meltdown.
Hepatitis A Infection
In order to become infected, you need to swallow the virus somehow. This usually happens when consuming food or water that has not been heated long enough to kill the virus. Once you swallow the virus, it takes 2-8 weeks before you get signs of the infection. Typically, a hepatitis A infection causes sudden fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea. A few days later you can get a yellow color of your eyes and skin.
Most people only have mild symptoms for a few weeks. In fact, children usually have no symptoms at all. About 10% of patients will get a more severe version of the infection that lasts months instead of weeks. The severe infections tend to occur in people who are over 50 years old. People die from this infection; with modern medical care, approximately 1% of people with a hepatitis A infection will still die. The death rate will be higher when even basic medical services are hard to find.
Treatment of Hepatitis A
Just like tetanus, there is no cure for a hepatitis A infection. No antibiotics can help at all. We can only treat the symptoms of the infection until your body’s immune system can destroy the virus. The hepatitis A infection is nowhere near as dangerous or as miserable as a tetanus infection.
However, when the world is sideways, you are going to have a hard time finding a functioning hospital if you are one of the few people who develop a severe hepatitis A infection. Even with a mild infection, you will have weeks of vomiting and diarrhea, not the best state to be in when you are dealing with basic survival issues.
Advanced Medical Prepping: The Vaccines
Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent both tetanus and hepatitis infections. If you do not have medical insurance and are concerned about the cost of these vaccines, call your local Department of Public Health. This agency will most likely have the lowest price for the vaccines in your area. These simple shots can prevent truly awful infections.
To prevent a tetanus infection, adults should have the Tdap or Td vaccine. These single shot vaccines are very safe and very effective. Either vaccine will give you approximately 10 years of protection. “Td” vaccine protects you against tetanus (hence the “T”) and diphtheria (hence the “d”).
Diphtheria is a respiratory infection that this also very contagious and very severe; without treatment, half of all patients with a diphtheria infection will die. I am not discussing this bacterial infection in more depth because it is very rare in the US. I am confident that you will be protected against this infection because you read this post and immediately went out and updated your tetanus vaccine. (Physicians are optimistic like that.)
Suggested article: SHTF Health Issues And How To Handle Them
The Tdap vaccine has an extra component, the “ap” part, that protects you against pertussis, also known as whooping cough. The medical community has been trying to decrease the number of children who die of whooping cough, so recently we have been vaccinating pregnant women and adults who will be around newborn children.
The “whooping cough vaccine” is one the same vaccine we use to protect you against tetanus, Tdap. So if you were recently vaccinated for whooping cough, you are covered for tetanus also.
There are currently 2 vaccines for hepatitis A. These two vaccines require 2 shots spaced 6 months apart. Both of the hepatitis A vaccines are very safe and very effective. You will get over 20 years of protection from either of the hepatitis A vaccines.
There is currently no recommendation to re-vaccinate after 20 years because we think you are getting life-long protection from either of the vaccines. If you were born after 1995, there is a good chance that you have already been vaccinated against hepatitis A as this vaccine has become a standard childhood vaccine. You need to check your vaccine records to be sure.
I highly recommend you step up your medical prepping to the next level and get both tetanus and hepatitis A vaccinations. Yes, I already know there are rare complications from both these vaccines.
So in considering whether you personally are going to get either of these vaccines, you should look at the actual risk of getting an infection versus the actual risk of the side effects. The risk of getting a tetanus infection in the US right now is much, much higher than the risk of having the rare side effects from the vaccines, so that is an easy choice. Get the shot.
For hepatitis A, you could make the case that this virus is very rare in the US currently and the risk versus benefit comparison is not as compelling for getting the hepatitis A vaccine. The Center for Disease Control would agree with you. But our current situation is not the scenario I am considering.
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I am trying to project into the future and guess what might happen. How well will public utilities function if the electric grid is down? Without any public sanitation, how far can infectious stool spread? How good is hand hygiene and food preparation going to be when water is scarce? What are the chances of reaching a functioning hospital during chaos?
Since a safe and effective vaccine is available for a very contagious infection, and the vaccine probably provides lifelong protection, I think the benefits of the Hepatitis A vaccine outweigh the rare side effects.
You have to make your own choices, of course, but understand that the current stellar medical care in the US could quickly drop down to a third world level of medical care in a disaster. Do yourself a favor and step up to advanced medical prepping now by getting both tetanus and hepatitis A vaccines for you and your family.
This article has been written by Doc Murdock for Prepper’s Will.
“Doc” Murdock has been a board-certified family medicine physician since 2004. She is an expert in both primary care and sports injuries. Keeping people healthy in all situations is her passion. Her goal is to help the prepping community expand their medical prepping activities, so they are ready for when, not if, the world goes sideways. Understand that this post is general medical information only. “Doc” cannot possibly cover all the contingencies for every medical situation in a single article. You will need to speak directly with a medical provider to see if these recommendations are appropriate for you personally.