Some years ago I began writing about medical preparedness for disasters that may take away modern medicine for the foreseeable future. In those circumstances, it stands to reason that a big issue will be infection from bad water, improperly cooked food, and injuries from activities of daily survival. These infections, left untreated, may cause deaths that would otherwise be preventable if there were access to antibiotics.
I’ve written a number of articles on this subject over time, culminating in my latest book “Alton’s Antibiotics and Infectious Disease: The Layman’s Guide to Available Antibiotics in Austere Settings”. This book discusses how to recognize infectious diseases without high technology. It also discusses your treatment options, using only the antibiotics currently available online without a medical license in avian and aquatic form. Since its publication, I’ve fielded a number of questions. One important query is: How much of a supply of antibiotics do I need?
This question vexes me because it is extraordinarily difficult to answer. I could simply say 20, 50, 100, 1000 of a particular antibiotic, but one size doesn’t fit all. There are a number of factors that the medic for each family or survival group must take into account to make a reasonable determination:
In terms of the quantity of medicine you’ll need, the aftermath of a storm is very different from, say, an epidemic. This is not to say that a non-disease event can’t cause an epidemic. In Haiti, an earthquake caused so much damage to the infrastructure that a cholera outbreak ensued.
How long will it take for modern medicine to make a comeback?
If the disaster in question is a hurricane that knocks out the power for a week, the likelihood is that you won’t require a huge supply of antibiotics. In fact, a number of infections, like the intestinal inflammation caused by giardia, may take longer than a week to show symptoms. If the disaster is an EMP from a nuclear detonation 200 miles over St. Louis, however, you may be off the grid for decades.
How many people are you responsible for?
Unless you’re a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll need people with other skills to increase your chances for survival. These people have the same possibility of getting an infection as those for whom you’ve planned, placing an additional burden on an already-limited supply of antibiotics
Who are you taking care of?
Although even the healthiest, most robust young adult can become ill with an infection, those with weakened or undeveloped immune systems are most at risk for a bad outcome. If your group is heavy with young children, elderly folks, or the chronically ill, you’ll be more likely to expend your antibiotics and should have more.
What’s the environment like?
Air. Water. Food. Poor quality or contamination of any of these can cause your risk of infection to rise significantly and, thus, your requirements for more antibiotics. The terrain may be problematic if steep and rugged, causing injuries that may become infected. Extremes of temperature can weaken individuals who don’t dress appropriately, leading, again, to infection.
What medical supplies does the rest of your group have?
Are you the designated medic for an extended family, group, or community? If so, are you the only one charged with the responsibility to accumulate items for medical storage? A group that has multiple people working to obtain antibiotics and other medical supplies puts less burden on the medic.
How good is the medic?
A recent survey showed that a significant number of patients who came to their doctors with respiratory infections, including influenza, left the office with a prescription for antibiotics. Giving antibiotics for viral infections does absolutely nothing to cure them.
The medic must have the ability to recognize bacterial vs viral infections (described in “Alton’s Antibiotics and Infectious Disease”); otherwise, important medications will be wasted on those that won’t benefit from them. You’ll need a lot of antibiotics if you use them like candy.
Another sign of a good medic is assuring proper sanitation and hygiene. If the medic allows the latrine to be built right next to the local water source, contamination and disease will follow. The medic who doesn’t supervise the purification of water and preparation of food is risking their family’s health. So will the medic who doesn’t insist on proper personal protection like work gloves and eyewear. This medic will have a lot more infections with which to deal.
The Bottom Line
It’s clear that no simple answer exists as to how many antibiotics are needed in a major disaster scenario. Examine your family or group’s individual needs, and make sure to have extra for others in need who arrive at your doorstep.
You can never have enough medical supplies. Consider those extras as barter items, or better yet, as items to help you save members of your community. You’ll become known in the area as a healer who uses medical skills and supplies to save lives. Over time, your good works will lead others to expend their own resources to protect…you!
In a future article, I’ll discuss the most important antibiotics (that are readily available online) to have in your medical storage. I might even pull out my crystal ball and give you magical guidance about a number of each to have!