Survival Medicine

Personal Hygiene as a Part of Survival

One of the most forgotten areas of survival is personal hygiene. The image of people who are all dirty and in ragged clothing may be good for Hollywood, but it’s not a very realistic one for survival. While it is true that many people may end up looking like that; the part that Hollywood always forgets it that those people will be fraught with disease. 

Dirt itself doesn’t cause disease, although it can convey it. A number of different types of parasites can get into our system via contact with dirt, especially if that dirt gets in our food. But sweat, which generally goes along with being dirty, attracts mosquitoes, which are known to carry and transmit disease. 

Hygiene and COVID-19 pandemic

As we’ve all seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, disease also spreads from one contagious person to others through physical contact, as well as contact with surfaces where the contagious person’s virus or bacterial rich spittle has landed. That’s why the CDC and other agencies were recommending washing our hands frequently, in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease. While washing doesn’t kill most bacteria and viruses, it does remove them from our hands by “mechanical means,” flushing them down the drain. That helps prevent us from transmitting those pathogens to our faces, touching ourselves. 

This idea of using personal hygiene to slow the spread of disease, that it has all but come a religion within military forces around the world. Soldiers who fall to illness are just as much casualties as those who fall to bullets and are unavailable to help fight the war. So armies demand good personal hygiene, as a way of helping to keep their soldiers well.

But how can you do that, if you’re also dealing with limited water? 

Personal Hygiene with limited water

First of all, you don’t need to use drinking water to bathe or wash your clothing. That can be done in unfiltered pond water. The amount of pathogens you might be putting on your body from the water is probably considerably less than that which you will be removing. Besides, once you dry off, most of the bacteria that came from the water won’t be able to survive. 

It is possible for men to bathe with about a half gallon of water and for women to do so with about a gallon. This is common in third-world countries I’ve been to. They don’t have showers or bathtubs like we do, except in fancy hotels and the homes of the rich. Everyone else takes a bucket of water into a small cement room and bathes out of it. 

To do this, start by scooping some of the water out of the bucket with a plastic cup or bowl. Use that to wet down your hair. As you do, the water will run down your body, wetting it as well. Then shampoo your hair, only using enough shampoo to get it to lather. You don’t want to overdo it, or you will need more water to rinse off with. 

Personal Hygiene

Once you have lathered your hair, take whatever soap you use and wash your body. It’s more efficient to use the soap applied to a washcloth and allow the coarseness of the fabric to help get dirt off your body. Then scoop more water out of the bucket, using it to rinse; again, start from the top and work your way down. Most of the soap on your body will rinse off, just from rinsing your hair. 

This sort of shower may not leave you feeling refreshed, but it will leave you clean. Don’t forget to brush your teeth. 

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