Disaster Survival

If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear. (D&C 38:30)

Site Updated: 27 JAN 2018


General Medical

You don't want to become sick or injured while experiencing a natural disaster and compound your problems. Your chances of survival will diminish with the severity of the illness or injury. You cannot help if you are sick or injured. AND someone will need to take care of YOU.

After studying natural disasters (Katrina, Allison, Japan, Chili, Haiti, El Salvador, Pakistan), I've come to the conclusion that nearly all infectious diseases common to all occurrences fall into three categories: Water-borne, Contact-borne (Infectious) and injury. They involve the failure of basic public-health services: sewage disposal and water purification.

It seems like in any weather related natural disaster there follows a medical disaster as well. Just think about it, the health care facilities are damaged as well and communications is difficult. Disease is because of the failure of basic public-health services: sewage disposal and water purification. There is no available clean water for washing, cooking, or drinking. The floodwater drowning the city is contaminated with sewage. Normal sanation is out the window. In fact, pollution and raw sewage may be all over the place especially as in floods where the system backs up and overflows. No power means no air conditioning, no fans, no refrigeration to keep medications stable, and no open pharmacies. No normal prescriptions are filled. No transportation means no access to medical care. Medical care was returned to the 19th century.

Just because the flood is over that doesn't mean the pollution is. Mold can cause lung infections, skin irritations, and other health dangers, especially for those with asthma, allergies, or suppressed immune systems.

You can expect diseases like E. coli, Cholera, Dysentery, Typhoid fever, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Hepititus A, Colds, Flu (influenza), West Nile virus,  Salmonella, Tuberculosis and ARS (Acute Respiratory Syndrom). I know this list looks like there are too many diseases. But the fact is, each of these were diagnosed during the Katrina desaster in New Orleans. You can also expect diseases in and from pets or wild animals.


The most documented and commonly occurring diseases are water-borne diseases. Examples of water-borne disease are: Cryptosporidium parasite, Dysentery, Typhoid, Giardiasis, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, and Legionnaires’, Norovirus, Shigellosis, Cholera, Salmonella, gastroenteritis, West Nile virus, trench foot and food poisoning (E. coli). And yes, all these were found in both hurricanes and earthquakes. Nearly all these diseases cause fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Diarrheal diseases cause over 40 percent of the deaths in disaster and refugee camp settings. Epidemics among victims are commonly related to polluted water sources (fecal contamination), or contamination of water during transportation and storage. Outbreaks have also been related to shared water containers and cooking pots, scarcity of soap and contaminated food, as well as pre-existing poor sanitary infrastructures, water supply and sewerage systems. In disasters, education on hygiene and hand washing, and provision of an adequate quantity of safe water, sanitation facilities and appropriate shelter are very important for prevention of these infectious diseases.

If the water damage was from dirty water, such as storm surge or rising flood waters which could be contaminated by sewage, then the clean up must be more extensive and thorough. In the case of dirty water contamination, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that items such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, upholstered furniture, foam and paper objects, and stuffed toys (unless they can be put in the washer with bleach) be thrown away because they cannot be washed or disinfected.

One last thing to think about... how long will these diseases last as they cycle through the population? Diarreal disease was found in refugees who went to evacuation centers outside New Orleans and in rescuers for three weeks after Katrina and was the most common disease.

Contact-Borne (Infectious)

These diseases were caused by close human contact with each other in a refugee center (respiratory infections). Examples of contact-borne diseases are: Measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, Chickenpox, tuberculosis, influenza, SARS and aspiration pneumonia. And yes, all these were found after Katrina. Many displaced people moved into shelters or temporary homes supplied by the government, not only because of disruptions to community utility services but also because of health risks associated with nuclear power plant malfunctions in Fukushima.

In addition to unavailable services, people weakened by malnutrition, lack of sleep, exposure, stress, injuries and infected wounds. The risk of common infectious diseases spreading rapidly in crowded refugee shelters is a big concern.

Imagine you are among the crowed refugees in a shelter... a child with Measles... another with a cold... and another has the Flu... and another with Streep... and another with lice. Because of their closeness, everone is exposed to all of these diseases.


The single most common injury disease is tetanus. (Cause usually sewage)

Keep your shots up-to-date... and documented.

Disease Control

Sanitation is the key. Proper cleaning is vital because of the likelihood of contamination from floodwater or storm surge. Thorough cleaning only requires simple equipment and cleaners like dish soap and chlorox bleach. Wash and sanatize everything. You can't wash your hands enough. They will transmit disease to mouth, eyes and sores.

Clean hands save lives.

Preparation Sanitation and hygiene items-shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, comb and brush, lip balm, sunscreen, contact lenses and supplies and any medications regularly used, toilet paper, towelettes, cleanex, diapers, soap, hand sanitizer, liquid detergent, feminine supplies, plastic garbage bags (heavy-duty) and ties (for personal sanitation uses), medium-sized plastic bucket with tight lid, disinfectant, household chlorine bleach, vitamins, pescriptions, medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container), first aid kit, first aid book.

Long Term Survival and Disases

Most long term survival diseases are associated with malnutrition. The first disease to show is due to the lack of Vitamin C (Scurvy). Scurvy leads to the formation of liver spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from all mucous membranes. The spots are most abundant on the thighs and legs, and a person with the ailment looks pale, feels depressed, and is partially immobilized. In advanced scurvy there are open, suppurating wounds and loss of teeth.

Don't skip the vitamins. You may want two types, mulitple with trace minerals and Vitamin C.


Some Interesting Disease links:

Mayo Clinic First Aid Guide

Disease - Epic Disasters