In survival, you can bet that you will be exposed to some pretty strange diseases and infestations. Simply being outside more often will expose you to mosquitos that carry illness. As well, your food and water may be contaminated or poorly cooked; this is yet another vector to allow infection to enter your body.
The organisms involved might be bacteria, viruses, or even parasites. Even walking barefoot can cause you to pick up one of these organisms. You gardeners know that nematodes (a type of helminth called a roundworm) live in and on the soil.
Parasitic worms (also known as helminthes) are what we call internal parasites, because they live and feed inside your body. This differentiates them from external parasites such as lice or ticks, which live and feed on the outside of your body. When infected or infested, you are called a “host” (lucky you).
Types of Parasitic Worms
There are three types of parasitic worms: tapeworms, roundworms, and flukes. They range in size from microscopic to almost a foot long, depending on the species. The most common infection we’ll see in the U.S. is the tiny Pinworm, which affects 40 million Americans. Underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia have the highest incidence, but it is thought that over a quarter of the world’s population has one type of worm or another in their system. Children are especially vulnerable, and parasites account for many cases of stunted growth and poor development.
Worms attach themselves mostly to the intestinal tract, although some flukes infect the liver and lungs as well. Worm eggs or larvae enter through the mouth, nose, anus or breaks in the skin. Many helminthes are dependent on the acid in the stomach to dissolve the egg shell, and cannot hatch without it. The worm itself, however, is immune to the effects of stomach acid.
Many infections are asymptomatic or just involve some itching in the anal area (especially Pinworms); with some species, however, you can get a large concentration of organisms which cause serious problems. Some symptoms include stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and even intestinal obstruction. In rare cases, an obstruction can cause so much damage to the bowel that the patient may die. Organisms that invade the liver or lungs can cause respiratory distress or weakened metabolism.
Your body knows when it has been invaded, and sets up an immune response against the worm. It is unlikely to kill it, however, and all the energy put into defending the body may weaken the ability to fight other infections. As such, people with worms are more prone to other infections, and those infections are harder to fight off.
Some worms actually compete with your body for the food that you take in. Ascaris, for example, will eat partially digested food that comes its way, preventing you from absorbing the nutrients effectively. Anemia and malnutrition may result. This may not matter much now, when you have access to as much food as you want. In a collapse, you will not have this luxury. Mixed with diarrhea, you could be at a significant nutritional deficit.
There are various drugs such as Vermox, which are called vermicides. These are effective in killing the worms inside your body, and might be a good choice to stockpile if you’re in an area that has seen parasitic worm infections before. It is thought that overuse or multiple uses of these drugs may eventually cause the organism to become resistant. This is especially becoming an issue with livestock. Natural anti-helminthic plants also exist. Wormwood, Clove, and Plumeria have been reported as effective. Interestingly, tobacco will also help eliminate worms.
Parasitic worm infections are contagious in that they can be passed through contact with the infected individual. Careful attention to hygiene and, among medical providers, strict glove use will decrease this likelihood. Hand washing is considered important in preventing a community-wide epidemic, especially before preparing food. Scratching during sleep may transmit eggs to fingernails, so be certain to wear clothing to bed that will prevent direct hand contact with the anus. Known worm patients should wash every morning to remove any eggs deposited overnight in that area.
It’s important to realize that unusual illnesses and infections will be problems that the survival medic may have to deal with. Obtaining knowledge of which organisms exist in your area, even if they are not major problems today, will be key in keeping your loved ones healthy.