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Hygiene and Disease Prevention

A lot of information on how diseases spread (and how to protect yourself) has already been presented in the larger section on vectors. That's already a good start on prevention but you can do more.

It might seem like a trivial idea, but good nutrition and a healthy immune system can be a big help in avoiding infection in the first place. One of the reasons epidemics spread so ravenously during early parts of history is that people were unhealthy, dirty and malnourished to begin with.

Once an outbreak has been ongoing for a few weeks, nutrition can start to be more of a problem than it was at the start. Are you relying on your own food supplies at this point? Make sure your supplies are varied enough that you stay healthy, not just alive. After weeks of rice and beans, your body will not be at its best, and you can be more at risk picking up a disease. Have foods that include fruits, vegetables and even vitamin supplements to stay in good shape through all of this. Cans of spinach, pumpkin and tomato juice are a few easy to obtain options that will boost the nutritional value of your food storage.

Stay clean as much as possible. Bacteria and viruses will remain on your hands and clothing long after you're actually exposed to a disease. Washing with soap and water is all you need to make a huge impact on reducing your chances of catching something. Hand sanitizer is also helpful, but never assume it will kill everything. It doesn't.

Bedding and clothing should be cleaned as much as possible as well, particularly when you're dealing with any diseases that travel by lice or fleas. When water is limited, at least air out the material and leave it out in the sunlight as long as possible to drive out any insects.

A delicate matter that can come up during a disaster situation is how to dispose of human waste if there is any disruption in water or power supplies. A toilet will work without power as long as you can pour a few quarts of water down the bowl when it needs to be flushed. Rainwater or undrinkable ground water would work fine for this. If there is no water to spare, then you'll need to take other steps and you have to make sure you don't put yourself at greater risk by handling this badly.

If you must dispose of your waste outside, know how to do it safely. Even if you aren't at risk for typhus or Ebola, human waste can still create a host of other illnesses over and above whatever your local pandemic is. For outdoor disposal, dig a hole at least a foot deep, and 200 feet from your water source (if you are getting your water from a well or other surface source). Cover the hole up with dirt to keep animals out when you're done. Needless to say, make sure to wash your hands afterward.

Many people envision a scenario where they hole up in their homes to remain perfectly protected against any disease threat. Sure this will help if it's a person-to-person disease, but insects and rodents can still be a problem as can a contaminated water supply. Don't assume that barricading yourself inside your house or retreat is the only thing you need to do. Stay on top of these other prevention methods too.

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