Sulfa as a Survival Antibiotic
In survival settings, it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll be performing activities that aren’t part of your routine in normal times, like, say, chopping wood for fuel. When you’re doing chores to which you’re not accustomed, injuries can occur. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Using protective eyewear, gloves, and boots may prevent an injury that could become life-threatening off the grid.
It might be difficult to envision that a simple cut could turn lethal, but in survival, many of these wounds are “dirty”; that is, they’re contaminated with bacteria or other microbes. Today, the use of drugs called antibiotics can nip infections in the bud. in any situation where modern medicine isn’t available, however, these wounds can become problematic. If an infection enters the bloodstream (a condition called “septicemia”), things can go downhill quickly.
A while ago, I did a series of articles and videos on antibiotics, and talked about popular drugs like amoxicillin, doxycycline, Cipro and others that you can find in aquarium and avian versions. Available in capsules and tablets that are essentially identical to those provided for human use (even down to identification numbers), the wise medic should have some of these tools in the medical woodshed for when the you-know-what hits the fan.
Quick disclaimer: This doesn’t mean that you should be using them in normal times. Remember that it’s illegal and punishable by law to practice medicine without a license. If modern medical professionals exist, seek them out.
Today we’ll talk about a family of antibiotic called sulfonamides, or sulfa drugs. Sulfonamides act to inhibit an enzyme involved in folate synthesis, an important part of the production of bacterial DNA. Sulfonamides are bacteriostatic, which means that they don’t directly kill bacteria. They do, however, significantly inhibit growth and multiplication, which leads to eventual elimination of bacteria from the body.
Sulfonamides were available even before Penicillin, and are credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands during WWII, including that of Winston Churchill. Soldier’s first aid kits even came with sulfa pills or powder.
A specific version, Sulfamethoxazole 400mg/Trimethoprim 80mg (veterinary equivalent: Bird- Sulfa or Fish-Sulfa) is a combination of two medications in the Sulfa family. This drug is well-known in the U.S. by its brand names Bactrim and Septra. Our British friends may recognize it by the name Co-Trimoxazole. The two antibiotics work synergistically, which means that, together, they are stronger in their effect than alone.
Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim is effective in the treatment of the following:
· Some upper and lower respiratory infections (chronic bronchitis and pneumonia)
· Kidney and bladder infections
· Ear infections in children
· Intestinal infections caused by E. coli and Shigella bacteria (a cause of dysentery)
· Skin and wound infections, including MRSA
· Traveler’s diarrhea
The usual dosage in adults is sulfamethoxazole 800-mg/Trimethoprim 160mg twice a day for most of the above conditions for 10 days (5 days in traveler’s diarrhea).
The recommended dose for pediatric patients with urinary tract infections or acute otitis media (ear infection) is 40 mg/ kg sulfamethoxazole and 8mg/kg trimethoprim per 24 hours, given in two divided doses every 12 hours, for 10 days. 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. This medication should not be used in infants 2 months old or younger.
In rat studies, the use of this drug was seen to cause birth defects; therefore, it is not used during pregnancy.
Another sulfa drug, Sulfadiazine, is combined with Silver to make Silvadene, a cream useful for aiding the healing process in skin wounds and burns. Cover completely twice a day.
Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim and other Sulfonamides are well known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals. These reactions to sulfa drugs are almost as common as Penicillin allergies, and usually manifest as rashes, hives, and/or nausea and vomiting. Worse reactions, however, can cause blood disorders as well as severe skin, liver, and pancreatic damage. Those with conditions relating to these organs should avoid the drug.
Although an allergy to Sulfa drugs may be common, it is not the same allergy as to Penicillin. Those allergic to Penicillin can take Sulfa drugs, although it’s possible to be allergic to both.
It’s important to understand that antibiotics aren’t candy: they must be used wisely and only when absolutely necessary. The overuse of antibiotics (mostly in livestock) is responsible for an epidemic of antibiotic resistance. Having them in your medical storage, however, can prevent the medic from experiencing headaches, and heartaches, if things go South.
Joe Alton, MD aka Dr. Bones
Learn more about antibiotics and 150 other medical topics related to survival by checking out a copy of our 700 page Third Edition of The Survival Medicine Handbook: THE Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way.