Illnesses Risks After SHTF Events

In the realm of health, it’s easy to take for granted the protection modern medicine affords us against sickness. However, for individuals like myself and many others who embrace preparedness, the specter of illness amplifying in the wake of a widespread natural calamity or a SHTF scenario looms large. With a young child and family members grappling with diverse health challenges, this concern hits close to home.

Consider the rapid spread of the flu as a mere glimpse into the potential escalation of illness and infections following a large-scale disaster or SHTF incident. Often, the initial event serves as the catalyst for a chain reaction of adversities, necessitating thorough preparation.

This article explores the myriad illnesses risks that preppers must consider when faced with adversity. Relying solely on the healthcare system is ill-advised, especially considering its existing shortcomings during peacetime, let alone amidst scarcity of resources and personnel in times of crisis.

Illnesses risks after large-scale disasters

Water-Related Diseases

In the aftermath of a large-scale event, access to safe water can become compromised, paving the way for the spread of waterborne diseases. Among the potential threats are cholera, e-coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium, and hepatitis A and E. These illnesses pose significant health risks and can lead to severe complications if left unchecked. Here’s a little more info about these diseases:

Holera: Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae and is characterized by severe diarrhea and dehydration. Without prompt treatment, cholera can be fatal within hours. The disease is transmitted through contaminated water and food, particularly in areas with poor sanitation.

E. coli (Escherichia coli): Certain strains of E. coli can cause severe gastrointestinal illness, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. In severe cases, E. coli infection can result in kidney failure and death, especially in vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

Salmonella: Salmonella bacteria are a common cause of food poisoning, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. In severe cases, salmonella infection can spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract and cause bloodstream infections, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems.

Cryptosporidium: Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that can cause cryptosporidiosis, a diarrheal illness. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and fever. Cryptosporidiosis can be particularly severe in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those living with HIV/AIDS.

Hepatitis A and E: Hepatitis A and E viruses primarily affect the liver and are transmitted through contaminated food and water. Hepatitis A typically causes flu-like symptoms, jaundice, and liver inflammation, while hepatitis E leads to similar symptoms but is often more severe in pregnant women.

While it’s commonly believed that such diseases are more prevalent in developing nations, the reality is that industrialized countries are not immune. According to the CDC, even in countries like the United States, instances of waterborne illnesses have been observed following disasters like hurricanes Allison and Katrina. During these events, individuals experienced diarrheal illnesses, with salmonella and cholera being notable culprits.

This underscores the importance of preparedness and vigilance, even in nations with abundant resources. Despite the United States’ vast infrastructure and capabilities, the impact of such diseases on public health cannot be underestimated. Therefore, proactive measures, such as ensuring access to clean water and promoting hygiene practices, are essential for mitigating the risks posed by waterborne diseases in the aftermath of large-scale disasters.

Influenza and Pneumonia

influenza and pneumonia

Even in developed countries, influenza remains a significant threat to public health. The flu virus can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, and respiratory distress. In vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and individuals with underlying health conditions, the flu can lead to complications like pneumonia, exacerbating the risk of severe illness and death.

Pneumonia, whether viral or bacterial in origin, is a common complication of influenza and poses a grave risk to affected individuals. Pneumonia is characterized by inflammation and infection of the lungs, leading to symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, fever, and cough with phlegm. Severe cases of pneumonia can result in respiratory failure and even death, particularly in those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can affect people of all ages and is typically spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The flu virus can also survive on surfaces for a short period, contributing to its transmission.

Symptoms of the flu often include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

While most people recover from the flu without complications, certain groups are at higher risk of developing severe illness or complications, including:

  • Young children, especially those under 5 years old
  • Adults over 65 years old
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or weakened immune systems

One of the most concerning complications of the flu is pneumonia, which can be caused by either the influenza virus itself or secondary bacterial infections. In severe cases, pneumonia can cause respiratory failure and may be life-threatening, especially in vulnerable individuals.

Prevention of influenza and pneumonia is key to reducing the risk of illness and complications. This includes annual flu vaccination, practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and seeking prompt medical attention if flu-like symptoms develop.

In addition to vaccination, maintaining overall health through a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and managing chronic medical conditions can also help reduce the risk of contracting the flu and developing complications such as pneumonia.

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Crowded Living Conditions: Understanding Disease Transmission Risks

Following a large-scale event, such as a natural disaster, crowded living conditions often become a reality for many affected individuals. Instances like Hurricane Katrina serve as stark reminders of the challenges posed by large groups of people living in close quarters. In such scenarios, the risk of disease transmission escalates significantly as viruses and bacteria find optimal conditions for spreading rapidly.

Crowded living conditions create ideal environments for the transmission of infectious diseases from person to person. Among the diseases that have historically occurred in such settings are:

Measles: Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Crowded living conditions facilitate the rapid spread of measles, particularly among individuals who are not vaccinated against the virus.

Meningitis: Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Certain types of meningitis, such as bacterial meningitis, can spread through close contact with respiratory secretions or saliva. Crowded living conditions increase the likelihood of person-to-person transmission of meningitis-causing bacteria.

Acute Respiratory Infections: Acute respiratory infections encompass a broad range of illnesses affecting the respiratory system, including the common cold, influenza, and pneumonia. In crowded environments, respiratory viruses can easily spread from one individual to another through coughing, sneezing, or direct contact.

To mitigate the risks associated with crowded living conditions and prevent disease transmission, it is essential to implement measures such as promoting good hygiene practices, ensuring adequate ventilation, providing access to healthcare services, and facilitating vaccination campaigns when applicable. Additionally, maintaining adequate spacing between individuals and promoting personal space boundaries can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases in densely populated areas.

Vector-Borne Diseases

vector borne diseases

Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, cyclones, and flooding, have the potential to disrupt ecosystems and create favorable conditions for the proliferation of disease-carrying vectors. These vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks, thrive in stagnant water and can spread infectious pathogens to humans and animals. In the aftermath of such events, the risk of vector-borne diseases escalates, posing significant health challenges for affected populations.

Among the vector-borne diseases that can increase following natural disasters are:

Malaria: Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites transmitted through the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. Stagnant water left behind by floods provides ideal breeding grounds for these mosquitoes, leading to an upsurge in malaria cases in disaster-affected areas.

Dengue Fever: Dengue fever is caused by the dengue virus, which is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes breed in containers holding water, such as discarded tires and water storage containers, often abundant in post-disaster settings. Increased mosquito breeding sites and human exposure contribute to the spread of dengue fever in affected communities.

West Nile Virus: The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes, particularly species of the Culex genus. Floods and standing water provide breeding habitats for these mosquitoes, leading to an increased risk of West Nile virus transmission in disaster-affected areas.

Zika Virus: Zika virus is transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes, similar to dengue fever. Stagnant water and debris left behind by floods create conducive environments for mosquito breeding, amplifying the risk of Zika virus transmission to humans.

To mitigate the risk of vector-borne diseases in the aftermath of natural disasters, comprehensive vector control measures are essential. This includes efforts to eliminate breeding sites, such as removing standing water and debris, implementing insecticide spraying programs, and promoting the use of personal protective measures such as mosquito nets and repellents.

Additionally, public health education campaigns can raise awareness about the risks of vector-borne diseases and encourage community participation in prevention efforts.

Foodborne Illness

SVMDv22In the aftermath of a natural disaster or large-scale event, maintaining food safety becomes increasingly challenging as sanitation practices may be compromised, and access to refrigeration facilities may be limited or nonexistent. This creates conditions ripe for the proliferation of foodborne pathogens, leading to an elevated risk of foodborne illness among affected populations.

Several factors contribute to the heightened risk of foodborne illness in post-disaster settings:

Sanitation Challenges: Disrupted infrastructure, contaminated water sources, and limited access to soap and clean water can impede proper hygiene practices, increasing the likelihood of cross-contamination and foodborne illness transmission during food preparation and handling.

Lack of Refrigeration: Without electricity or functioning refrigeration systems, perishable foods such as meat, dairy products, and leftovers are susceptible to rapid spoilage and bacterial growth. Consuming spoiled or contaminated food can lead to gastrointestinal infections and food poisoning.

Contaminated Water Supply: Contaminated water sources can compromise food safety during cooking, cleaning, and food preparation. Washing fruits and vegetables with contaminated water or using it to prepare food can introduce harmful pathogens, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

Common foodborne pathogens that may proliferate in post-disaster environments include bacteria such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Campylobacter, and Listeria, as well as viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A.

To mitigate the risk of foodborne illness in post-disaster settings, it is crucial to implement strict food safety measures:

Ensure Proper Hygiene: Promote handwashing with soap and clean water before and after handling food, and encourage the use of sanitizers when available. Keep food preparation surfaces clean and sanitized to prevent cross-contamination.

Practice Safe Food Handling: Cook foods to the recommended internal temperatures to kill harmful bacteria, and avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Store perishable foods in coolers with ice packs or seek alternative methods of refrigeration to prevent spoilage.

Treat Water: Boil or treat water from questionable sources before using it for drinking, cooking, or washing food. Use water purification tablets or portable water filters if available.

Monitor Food Quality: Discard any food that appears spoiled, has an unusual odor, or shows signs of contamination, such as mold growth or slime.


infections skin infections

In the aftermath of natural disasters or large-scale events, the risk of infections can significantly increase due to a combination of factors, including compromised sanitation, overcrowding, and limited access to healthcare services. Understanding these risks is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures and protecting public health in disaster-affected areas.

Several factors contribute to the heightened risk of infections in post-disaster environments:

Compromised Sanitation: Disrupted infrastructure and contaminated water sources can lead to poor sanitation conditions, increasing the likelihood of infectious diseases spreading through contaminated water, food, or environmental surfaces. Inadequate waste disposal and sewage systems further exacerbate the risk of infection transmission.

Overcrowding: Sheltering in crowded evacuation centers or temporary housing facilities can facilitate the rapid spread of infections among displaced populations. Close proximity and limited ventilation create ideal conditions for respiratory infections, while inadequate hygiene facilities increase the risk of gastrointestinal infections.

Limited Access to Healthcare: Damage to healthcare facilities and disruptions to medical supply chains can restrict access to essential healthcare services, including diagnosis, treatment, and vaccination. Delayed or inadequate medical care can exacerbate the severity of infections and lead to complications, particularly in vulnerable populations.

Common infectious diseases that may pose significant risks in post-disaster settings include:

Respiratory Infections: Respiratory viruses such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and coronaviruses can spread rapidly in crowded and poorly ventilated environments, leading to outbreaks of respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Gastrointestinal Infections: Bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and norovirus can contaminate food and water supplies, causing outbreaks of gastrointestinal infections characterized by symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Skin and Soft Tissue Infections: Poor hygiene conditions and inadequate wound care can increase the risk of skin infections, including cellulitis, abscesses, and wound infections. Insect bites, cuts, and scratches can serve as entry points for infectious agents, leading to localized or systemic infections.

To mitigate the risk of infections in post-disaster environments, it is essential to prioritize preventive measures such as:

Promoting Hygiene Practices: Educate individuals and communities about the importance of handwashing, proper sanitation, and respiratory etiquette to prevent the spread of infections.

Implementing Vector Control Measures: Reduce breeding sites for mosquitoes and other disease vectors through environmental management, insecticide spraying, and use of protective measures such as mosquito nets and repellents.

Providing Access to Healthcare Services: Ensure timely access to medical care, including vaccination campaigns, treatment of infectious diseases, and management of underlying health conditions to prevent complications and reduce transmission.


gardenkitb1The heightened risk of illnesses following a SHTF event underscores the importance of proactive preparedness and comprehensive mitigation strategies. Whether facing challenges posed by

crowded living conditions, compromised sanitation, or limited access to healthcare, it is crucial for individuals and communities to prioritize preventive measures and resilience-building efforts.

Understanding the specific risks posed by waterborne diseases, vector-borne illnesses, foodborne pathogens, and infections in post-disaster environments is essential for developing targeted interventions and promoting public health resilience.

This article has been written by James H. Redford MD for Prepper’s Will.

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