Sanitation and Hygiene: Preparing to stay clean & healthy

In a busy modern world with modern conveniences and plenty of “normal”, little thought is given to what happens when normal isn’t so normal anymore. Perhaps one of the single most important advancements in human history was the beginning of modern sanitation methods. Disease and death plummeted when it was figured out that bad water, uncontrolled human waste and control of many health vectors (the conveyors of disease) were important to deal with satisfactorily. 

In a busy world of work-a-day work and urban survival, many take these advancements and conveniences for granted and have not considered what happens IF clean water stops flowing, toilets stop flushing, or any of a number of other things happens.

Even in good times with running water and flushing toilets, proper sanitation and hygiene are essential. Recent history provides abundant evidence that short-term grid-down situations, natural disasters, and disruptions in utility services can create major sanitation issues which can escalate into significant health problems for the young, old, infirm and all alike.

Indeed, what happens when running water isn’t an option, or becomes undrinkable! How will you and your neighbors, or better yet … those in your city … deal with a situation where toilets won’t whisk human waste away out of sight and harm’s way? What happens if or when a “perfect storm” of unsafe dirty or scarce water, piled up garbage, human waste, contaminated food, and a lack of available medical resources all converge? Or if just any one of these situations present? Will you be ready?

With the loss of clean running water and the ability to flush, normal ordinary days can transform into moments of great concern. If, or as diseases that occur in consequence to poor sanitation and hygiene, begin to spread – dealing with their effects will only compound the problems. Dysentery, cholera, flues, pandemic plague, dehydration, sickness and death will quickly become “big deals”. No one is immune.

What’s the solution? Answer: Get prepared!

It is these “what if” possibilities that the wise and prudent consider when becoming better prepared. Fear is what happens when you are unprepared. Purposeful action is what occurs when you are prepared!

Sanitation and hygiene is a simple concept, and many sanitation items are easy to gather and store. Whether you prefer pre-assembled commercial kits, or to put your own together from a list is a matter of personal preference, cost, and convenience.

Here are items and situations to consider:

Toilet Paper: Get as much as you can and store it in creative ways and spaces – but don’t count on it lasting in any sustained situation. It is after all, a convenience. It’s best to consider and prepare alternative methods for back and front-side cleaning. Top of that list is the use of sanitizing wipes, and perineal bottles filled with solution (water) to rinse/wash off. Use “family cloth” or reusable cloth pads to dry (only).

Oral Hygiene: Every dentist, along with every person with a tooth ache will tell you how important this is. And it really is very simple. Have plenty of toothbrushes – and use them. In a pinch, you don’t even need toothpaste – but toothpaste makes it more pleasant. Consider sodium bicarbonate (common baking soda) as a powder dentifrice. (Dip wet brush in small pile of baking soda – and brush). Don’t forget the floss and some tooth picks – and to insist (help) the children and elderly to properly care for their oral health.

Feminine Hygiene: Think redundancies – multiple methods of cleaning, protecting, and dealing with these fact-of-life issues. And store away enough of a variety of method to last a year. (Don’t overlook that these items make excellent additions to a first aid kit.)

Infant Hygiene: If you have young children, be prepared. What will you do if there aren’t any more disposable diapers? Do you have cloth diapers? Rubber pants? Skills for washing? Can you protect their health and yours by proper disposal of waste, and protecting their fragile skin from disease?

Hands, Hair and Skin: Proper hand sanitation is critical. Have plenty of soap, alcohol hand sanitizer – and wash hands often – especially after handling anything dirty and prior/after to food handling. In a sustained disruption it will be important to keep your skin healthy and hair kept. Shampoos,

Bathing: Again, think redundancy. Without running water and showers, have alternative methods for cleaning the body. Think sponge baths; sanitizing or moist wipes or towelettes; restricted bathing or only cleaning ‘vital parts’; spray bottles, pressure bottles, etc. If water is limited, use purified drinking water first for drinking, cooking, dishes. Consider outdoor sources for bathing water such as rivers/streams, using outdoor or backyard showers (if plumbing doesn’t work), etc.

Clothing and Shoes: Be safe and keep skin covered and protected from sun. Wear shoes to protect from cuts, injuries to toes/feet and puncture wounds that can become infected. Keep clothes clean – which means have extra laundry soap and a way to clean them in a variety of conditions and circumstances. Consider laundry in an off-grid situation, and with soiled infant diapers, and with illness body-fluids to have to deal with. Get and learn to use the equipment for washing, sanitizing, drying, and caring for clothes and cloth.

Pandemic & Flu Supplies: The ability to deal with body fluids and properly care for the sick during a time of disease, plague, flu and anything similar, will be of vital importance. Consider putting together some form of a “pandemic kit” to absorb body fluids, spills, vomit, and so forth – as well as to have some form of protective coverings and barriers for caregivers. Consider the health and first-aid needs for re-hydration, medications and herbals, etc.

Medications: Over the counter and prescription medications (where possible) are important preparations. Dehydration is a serious threat to life in illness and pandemic. This occurs often secondary to diarrhea, vomiting, fever, poor nutrition or lack of water, etc. Consider meds for diarrhea, constipation, headaches, allergy and other minor conditions that often present – and for which available medical care is or will often be unavailable.

Sanitation Area: Have a designated location and methodology for sanitation practices. Don’t dispose of waste uphill or near water sources. Use a bag in your existing toilet, or use portable toilet or 5-gallon buckets with bag liners, and have separate ones for “poo” and “pee” – they dispose of differently and have different threat risks. Protect from flies and pests or other “vectors” that can spread disease. Train your household to use these “facilities” and methods properly – and to stay clean after use.

Garbage and Dry Waste: Dispose of properly. Bury. Burn. Bag. Recycle.

Food Safety: Handle food with clean hands. Use proper storage containers. Protect from insects and animals. Keep chilled where possible. Prepare what you can eat and eat what you prepare.

Let’s agree that there is A LOT to consider! There are many moving variables that can change “on-the-fly” depending on the nature of the disruption/disaster, condition of public utilities, family size and ages, health situations and disabilities, and so forth. These and more are what must be considered when playing out the “What If…” scenarios in the planning process. Start with what’s most probable or urgent. What matters most and when. What support do you have or can you get from like-minded neighbors or family members? And – one final suggestion … get and practice skills!

Knowledge: Learn skills. Read books and blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Make a list and begin the process. Meet with like-minded partners in your church, neighborhood, family – and learn and practice together. Sanitation threats and how you deal with them is both a private and public matter.