7 Most Likely Infections You’ll Catch When The SHTF

7 infections

We often think of communicable diseases as third world problems. But did you know that within the first three weeks after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina there were reported cases of Cholera, Tuberculosis, Norovirus, and Salmonella? Fortunately, response teams acted quickly enough to keep the diseases from spreading through proper medical care, but what if no help had come? It could have gotten really ugly.

Displacement is a key factor in the spread of communicable diseases, particularly during wars and after natural disasters. When people are evacuated into a densely populated area and/or are forced into crowded living conditions, disease can spread very quickly. When sanitation is lacking and clean drinking water is scarce, an outbreak of something can almost be guaranteed. We have many examples of exactly what this has looked like throughout history.

7 Diseases You’re Most Likely To Catch When The SHTF


In 1854, London experienced a terrible outbreak known as The Broad Street cholera outbreak in which 616 people died and three-quarters of the town fled before the disease was contained. It was later discovered that the mother of a child who had contracted cholera elsewhere washed the baby’s dirty diaper in a cesspit only three feet from the town well. The old cesspit leaked into the drinking water, contaminating it and sickening everyone who used the well as a drinking source.

Cholera is a bacterial disease causing infection in the intestines, most often spread through dirty water.  A tell-tale symptom is excess amounts of watery diarrhea lasting for several days. Vomiting may also occur. The diarrhea can be so severe that people become dehydrated within a matter of hours. Symptoms generally appear 2-5 days after exposure. Fever is rare, and should cause suspicion of a secondary infection.

Cholera is spread through water and food contaminated with human feces. Insufficiently cooked crabs, shrimp, oysters and other shellfish, which have the Cholera bacteria on their shells, is another common source.

The source of the contamination is typically other cholera sufferers when their untreated diarrheal discharge is allowed to get into waterways, groundwater or drinking water supplies. Drinking any infected water and eating any foods washed in the water, as well as shellfish living in the affected waterway, can cause a person to contract an infection. Cholera is rarely spread directly from person to person. (Source)

Rehydration is key to recovery. An electrolyte solution of 1 liter of boiled water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 6 teaspoons of sugar, and mashed banana for potassium can be used when commercially produced oral rehydration solutions are unavailable.

I have a homemade electrolyte mix that I make for my kids when they are throwing up and have diarrhea, which uses Black Lava Salt instead of regular table salt. It’s made from sea salt, which is full of trace minerals which are not found in regular table salt, as well as antioxidants, and is infused with activated charcoal which absorbs toxins and flushes them from your system.

If people with cholera are treated quickly and properly, the mortality rate is less than 1%; however, with untreated cholera, the mortality rate rises to 50–60%. For certain genetic strains of cholera, such as the one present during the 2010 epidemic in Haiti and the 2004 outbreak in India, death can occur within two hours of becoming ill. (Source)

Prevention isn’t difficult with proper sanitation and clean drinking water. Boiling or filtering water before drinking it or washing food in it will greatly reduce your chances of getting sick. Proper disposal of fecal matter, boiling and/or bleaching the bedding and clothing of sick people, and thorough hand washing of those who come in contact with sick people is the best way to prevent further spread.

(Warning: This video may be offensive to some viewers, however it does obtain useful information on avoiding dysentery.)


When the Cherokees were rounded up and forced along what is now known as the Trail of Tears, dysentery became a major killer to many of the most vulnerable citizens, namely young children and those over 60 years of age.

You might wonder, how could dysentery even become a problem in the wide open wilderness? The following portion of an excerpt from the journal of the Reverend Daniel Sabine Butrick, who accompanied a band of Cherokees during their forced emigrations in 1838, gives us some insight into factors that played a key part in the cause of the epidemic:

The Cherokees had been kept on a small spot, surrounded by a strong guard, under such circumstances that it would seem impossible for a male or female to secrete themselves from the gaze of the multitudes for any purpose whatever, unless by hanging up some cloth in their tents, and there they had no vessel for private use. But now the limits were somewhat enlarged, yet it is evident that from their first arrest they were obliged to live very much like brute animals; and during their travels, were obliged at night to lie down on the naked ground, in the open air, exposed to wind and rain, and herd together, men women and children, like droves of hogs, and in this way, many are hastening to a premature grave.

As we see in so many cases throughout history, crowded living conditions, lack of sanitation, and exposure to the elements weakened the people and provided the perfect environment for disease.

Dysentery is an infection causing inflammation of the intestines and colon, brought about by bacteria, viruses, parasitic worms, and protozoa (single-celled microscopic living organisms).

Symptoms include frequent diarrhea with blood or mucus present, fever, abdominal pain, and a feeling of incomplete defecation.

Dysentery is spread through contaminated water, and person-to-person through lack of hygiene and sanitation. If an infected person touches a doorknob after using the bathroom without washing their hands, and transfers fecal matter to that knob, a healthy person who comes along and touches the doorknob and then eats without washing their hands will ingest the organism into their digestive tract.

Dysentery is treated with rehydration. If vomiting and diarrhea are so severe that the patient can’t take fluid orally, intravenous fluids should be given.

Access to clean water, proper hygiene, washing of hands after using the bathroom and before eating, thoroughly cooking foods, and washing fresh foods in clean water will help reduce chances of the disease spreading.


The WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2014 underscored that the highly contagious disease remains the second biggest infectious disease killer, infecting an estimated nine million people last year and killing 1.5 million. (Source)

During WWI, Tuberculosis became a major problem for French, British, and American soldiers. Living in unhygienic close quarters, often in cold, wet, filthy trenches for long periods of time, exhausted from continuous combat and lack of sleep, and not always well fed, it’s no wonder more soldiers died from disease than war itself.

TB, also known as “consumption”, is a potentially serious bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs, but can spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms include chronic cough with blood present, fever, chills, night sweats, loss of appetite and weight loss.

A highly contagious disease, active TB is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, spits, or otherwise spreads respiratory fluid droplets into the air. Tuberculosis is linked to overcrowding and malnutrition. People with poor immune systems are at higher risk. Smokers have nearly twice the risk of contracting TB than non-smokers. Anyone living with an infected person is at high risk of contracting the disease.

Not all people who become infected with Tuberculosis will develop symptoms. Those who do not become ill are diagnosed with “latent TB” and are not contagious.

Due to increased antibiotic resistance, TB can be difficult to treat. A 4-drug regimen is the typical course of treatment, alternating the antibiotics over a course of 6 months. Increased side effects make this course of action a gamble. Plenty of rest and proper nutrition are essential until the patient is fully recovered.

Garlic is a strong natural antibiotic, and may be effective in treating drug-resistant Tuberculosis. Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to test this theory, but I’ve used garlic oil for ear infections and bronchitis for years and have always had very quick recovery without the need for any additional medications.

A strong oil of garlic can be made by crushing 5-6 garlic cloves in 2 Tbsp olive oil; heat over low until warmed (do not brown), then remove from burner and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes. Crush the garlic cloves to extract their juices into the oil. Rub the warm garlic oil over the chest, and over the back where the lungs are. Also rub on the bottoms of clean feet, where the oil can get into the bloodstream most quickly. Repeat several times a day. (This is what I do for bronchitis and upper respiratory infections… and probably what I’d try for TB if I ever contracted it and couldn’t get medical help. For informational purposes only.)


Typhoid fever, also known simply as typhoid, is a symptomatic bacterial infection due to Salmonella typhi. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe and usually begin six to thirty days after exposure. Often there is a gradual onset of a high fever over several days. Weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, and headaches also commonly occur. Diarrhea and vomiting are uncommon. Some people develop a skin rash with rose colored spots. In severe cases there may be confusion. Without treatment symptoms may last weeks or months. Other people may carry the bacteria without being affected; however, they are still able to spread the disease to others.

Typhoid is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Risk factors include poverty as a result of poor sanitation and poor hygiene.

Treatment of disease is with antibiotics such as azithromycin, fluoroquinolones or third generation cephalosporins. Resistance to these antibiotics has been developing which has made treatment more difficult. (Source)

Prevention includes access to clean drinking and cooking water, washing hands, and good sanitation practices.

Epidemic Typhus

Epidemic typhus (also called “camp fever”, “jail fever”, “hospital fever”, “ship fever”, “famine fever”, “putrid fever”, “petechial fever”, “Epidemic louse-borne typhus,” and “louse-borne typhus”) is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters. (Source; emphasis added)

When lice feed on infected humans, the bacterium grows in the louse’s gut and is excreted in its feces. When an infected louse bites an uninfected human who then scratches the itchy bite, the disease is transmitted as the feces is rubbed into openings in the skin. In one to two weeks symptoms will begin to present themselves.

Symptoms include severe headache, a sustained high fever, cough, rash, severe muscle pain, chills, falling blood pressure, stupor, sensitivity to light, delirium and death. A rash begins on the chest about five days after the fever appears, and spreads to the trunk and extremities. A symptom common to all forms of typhus is a fever which may reach 39 °C (102 °F).

Epidemic typhus is thus found most frequently during times of war and deprivation. For example, typhus killed hundreds of thousands of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The deteriorating quality of hygiene in camps such as Theresienstadt and Bergen-Belsen created conditions where diseases such as typhus flourished. Situations in the twenty-first century with potential for a typhus epidemic would include refugee camps during a major famine or natural disaster. (Source; emphasis added)

The infection is treated with antibiotics. Intravenous fluids and oxygen may be needed to stabilize the patient. The mortality rate is 10% to 60%, but is vastly lower (close to zero) if intracellular antibiotics such as tetracycline are used before 8 days. Chloramphenicol is also used. (Source)


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is a contagious antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria which is potentially fatal. MRSA began as a hospital-acquired infection. Anyone confined to a hospital, prison, or nursing home, where patients with open wounds, invasive devices, and weakened immune systems are at greater risk of infection.

Cases of community-acquired strains of MRSA are on the rise, alarming doctors and healthcare professionals.

Prisons, military barracks, and homeless shelters can be crowded and confined, and poor hygiene practices may proliferate, thus putting inhabitants at increased risk of contracting MRSA. Cases of MRSA in such populations were first reported in the United States, and then in Canada. The earliest reports were made by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in US state prisons. Subsequent reports of a massive rise in skin and soft tissue infections were reported by the CDC in the Los Angeles County Jail system in 2001, and this has continued.

In the news media, hundreds of reports of MRSA outbreaks in prisons appeared between 2000 and 2008.


MRSA on the skin can often look like a spider bite. But if the redness spreads, there’s pain and warmth to the touch, if the sore fills with pus or begins draining fluids, and if fever is present, you should suspect a MRSA infection.

Small cuts that turn into a MRSA infection can spread to the joints, heart, lungs, brain, and other organs.

To avoid the spread of MRSA, cover your wounds with clean, dry bandages until they’re fully healed to avoid skin-to-skin contact with others. Be sure to wash your hands often to avoid contracting MRSA. Bathe regularly, especially after exercising, don’t share personal hygiene items, sanitize gym/sports equipment, and wear flip-flops in public showers.

Manuka honey has been shown to effectively treat MRSA infections. High quality, pure Melaleuca (Tea Tree oil) has also successfully been used.

In the book Be Your Own Doctor by Rachel Weaver, M.H., a few home remedies for treating MRSA can be found:


Without a doubt, the spice turmeric is the very best remedy to take when you have boils, staph infections, or MRSA.

Instructions: Take internally, one teaspoon of turmeric powder in half a cup of warm water three times a day, or take five capsules of turmeric 3x a day.

Continue for several days or more if you have recurring MRSA boils. You will see healing begin within a matter of hours. You do NOT have to touch the boil whatsoever or apply anything topically.

NOTE: Regular high doses of turmeric can lead to dehydration and constipation, so be sure to take the above remedy only when necessary, such as when you begin to see signs of a boil. A single weekly dosage of the remedy is also acceptable at other times as a preventative measure.

A second remedy is also shared:

Mix in a little dish some activated charcoal powder, turmeric powder, few drops of tea tree oil (be sure you’re using a high quality therapeutic grade), and a white willow bark capsule. This kills the bacteria and takes away the pain while the charcoal draws it out of the system. Rub on sore until healed. This has worked successfully for us on numerous boils. It also helps to take turmeric, activated charcoal, and white willow bark capsules internally as that will fight the toxins released inside the body. Please note that if the person has a high fever (over 102) or if there are red streaks going from the site with their boils they should see a doctor. There may be serious infection going on.

NOTE: When you take turmeric internally, you should also take acidophilus or another probiotic to keep your bowl flora healthy.


Often referred to as a “stomach bug”, Norovirus is a highly contagious, viral gastroenteritis.

Symptoms of Norovirus mainly include nausea, projectile vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, and low-grade fever might also occur (that general “hit by a truck” feeling.) Although contracting Norovirus is definitely unpleasant, most people make a full recovery within a couple of days.

The virus is transmitted through contaminated water and food, person-to-person contact, lack of washing hands/personal hygiene, and contaminated surfaces. Particles of the virus can also be spread through the air by projectile vomiting, or by a toilet flush when vomit or diarrhea is present.

Thorough hand-washing is the best way to prevent Norovirus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers have shown to be less effective against the virus than good old fashioned warm water and soap.

Activated charcoal is fantastic for stomach bugs and food poisoning. It acts quickly to absorb toxins and purges them from your body. An electrolyte solution can also be helpful if dehydration is threatening. Homemade bone broth from organically raised beef and chickens is also extremely nourishing. Lots of fluids and rest is important for a quick recovery.

Proper Hygiene and Sanitation Are Key!

Crowded living conditions, dirty clothing and bedding, lack of clean drinking water, lack of proper bathroom facilities, and eating with dirty hands all hasten the spread of disease.

Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating, purify water from questionable sources, and keep your body and clothing clean. Let’s pray we’re never in a situation where these basic hygiene practices are denied us, ’cause history tells us serious illness will be inevitable.

Supplies to have on hand when the SHTF:

Disposable gloves
Pool shock (to make bleach for disinfecting)
Surgical masks
Lots of soap
Activated charcoal
Salt and sugar to make electrolyte solution (Black Lava Salt is awesome for this.)
16+ Manuka honey
Homemade canned bone broth
Large disposable underpads or Chux pads (puppy training pads will work; to put under sick patients in bed.)
Plastic garbage bags for removing contaminated waste.
Waterproof mattress pads

What are YOU most concerned about catching when it hits the fan?

About Kendra Lynne

Kendra shares all of her homesteading adventures on her website, New Life on a Homestead. Also be sure to check out her popular Canning DVD: At Home Canning For Beginners and Beyond!

View all posts by Kendra Lynne

24 Responses to “7 Most Likely Infections You’ll Catch When The SHTF”

  1. dave yale Says:

    You really need to put a Print Link as many of these articles need to be printed and save. Would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for all you do!


  2. samnjoeysgrama Says:

    What a great article! Thank you for doing the research. Because potassium is an essential part of the above electrolyte combination, and bananas could be totally unavailable, I keep “Lite Salt” or “No-Salt” on hand. It is a combination of salt and potassium and tastes like normal table salt. It helps relieve muscle cramps for people working in the heat who lose lots of potassium through sweat. I use it as my table salt to help with my high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about using it regularly as it does lower blood pressure and isn’t for everyone. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food/article/how-salt-substitutes-shake-out
    You can also buy bulk powdered electrolytes in the animal feed area of the farm store. They are used for “bucket calves” which can get potentially fatal cases of “scours”, a type of diarrhea, and die pretty quickly.
    I would add both to the list of must haves if SHTF.


    • samnjoeysgrama Says:

      Sorry, I forgot to answer the question you asked. I fear blood poisoning the most. It has killed millions over the centuries, including the doctor in Vienna named Ignaz Semmelweis who discovered the link in the 1840s between germs and childbed fever that killed so many new mothers. Few believed him. He died in an insane asylum from a tiny cut on his finger.
      I also keep “stone flour” or food grade diatomaceous earth on hand. It kills roaches and fleas, and I am hoping it will kill body lice. I can’t imagine having fleas or lice crawling on me, let alone catching a deadly disease from them.


      • Mari Says:

        For blood poisoning make sure to have a supply of Epsom Salts on hand. Have twice cured myself of blood poisoning (caused by a wound)using the stuff. Dissolve in water as hot as you can stand and soak the infected area often for at least 30 mins at a time. Keep adding hot water to the solution to keep the temperature up. Dosing with colloidal silver would probably also help.


    • Kendra Lynne Says:

      Great tip. I haven’t seen Lite Salt before. I’ll have to find some!


  3. Jane Says:

    On the garlic oil for tuberculosis. If you dont keep garlic cloves around, or dont have fresh, can you use pure garlic essential oil?


    • Kendra Lynne Says:

      Garlic essential oil would definitely be a good thing to have around. It’ll be much more concentrated and powerful than a raw garlic clove. Just be careful to dilute it with a carrier oil before applying.


  4. Sam W. Says:

    Whatever ticks and mosquitoes are spreading. I have had exposure to who knows what working in an elementary school over 20 years.


  5. Cynthia Cousino Says:

    Thanks for the detailed informative article. I especially liked the “home made” treatment suggestions.


    • Kendra Lynne Says:

      Glad you enjoyed the info! :) When I research SHTF stuff, I always try to think in terms of- if I can’t get outside help, what’s the next best thing to do? Home remedies are a fantastic way to handle life’s little emergencies yourself.


  6. john-atlanta Says:

    Since tetanus killed so many people in the USA’s Civil War, you should make sure you are up to date on your shot. They were in short supply as of two years ago when we got them. Many solider survived the wounds, they did not survive lockjaw caused by the dirt in the wound.


  7. Bobby Deems Says:

    can, quite-possibly, BE “FATAL”! TREAT EVERY-LITTLE “KNICK” like it’s a SERIOUS INJURY. TRUST ME, “I’M RIGHT”!


  8. Matilda Says:

    Thanks for the great article! Things like cholera have struck major US cities as well in the past. For situations without access to medical treatment, I like your treatment remedies. For blood infections, I would also add an antibiotic salve to the medicine cabinet. A basic one can be made with oil, beeswax, plaintain and comfrey. I use olive oil, coconut oil, plaintain, yarrow, rosemary or thyme, comfrey and marshmallow root – all of which can be grown in a back yard herb garden. We use it on everything from cuts, diaper rash to bug bites. Willow bark can be added for pain but the plaintain takes the sting out almost instantly and is a natural antibiotic. I have also used it to treat a badly infected cut to the bone that had been treated at the ER. It became very infected and I was running an almost 102 fever. Two applications, over night and the next day, the infection was gone and no more fever. We have also used a similar version of your black salve for insect bites, skin infections and to get rid of splinters and small pieces of glass on the soles of the feet.
    Thanks again!! I need to add this article to our home reference collection.


    • Kendra Lynne Says:

      I love these suggestions, Matilda! Thank you for sharing!


    • Leslie Says:

      Great article Kendra. I am so glad to read this and I had no idea! I would add that garlic tablets (a non-deodorized one we use) cured MRSA in a young boy medicine had given up on. A determined mom we know found it on her last call after calling all the health food stores I also grow my own garlic every year.

      And Matilda, what a great salve recipe with awesome results! If you can add St. John’s Wort to your salve or just have it straight, it totally stops pain and is antibiotic. St. John’s Wort volunteers in my garden but you can get seeds. I pick the flowers every day, pop them in olive oil and set the jar in the sun. I keep stuffing the flowers in the jar for a week, making sure they are “under water” meaning the olive oil covers, let them infuse into the oil for 2 weeks in the sun and then strain. It turns a lovely red. I have been doing this for almost 20 years and I have never found a better pain killer. Best know for its action on places rich in nerves, teeth, eyes, fingers, toes and tailbone. It works everywhere else too. I even used it as part of a home treatment to get rid of our cows’ pink eye!

      Just a side note to compare St. John’s Wort to Arnica in matters of pain; St. John’s wort can be used on open wounds and on the gums for tooth pain, whereas Arnica should not be used internally or on open wounds.


  9. Laurey Packard Says:

    as good or better than having soap is knowing how o make it. Easy and inexpensive. Also in regards to comfrey, do not put on deep wounds!! It will seal the top closed before the deep parts have healed and cause infection under the skin.


  10. Dee Says:

    I fear the overuse of any antibiotics the general public has. Without knowledge as to whether the illness is bacterial, viral, or fungal, antibiotics will probably be used for all or most them which will be ineffective, thereby strengthening those bugs into superbugs.


  11. Paula Costa Says:

    would be great to have links for herbs that work in each infections.


  12. madgie Says:

    Awesome I enjoyed this article from beginning to end.I am so impressed by your writing style and the content, very informative. I look forward to reading more. You kept my attention the entire time. Thanks for sharing. Margie


  13. Michael T Says:

    Great info here, thank you!


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