It blows my mind how many times I’ve seen someone emerge from a stall in a public restroom and walk out without washing their hands. Yet basic hygiene and hand washing goes a huge way in preventing illness, especially the COVID-19 coronavirus that's sweeping the world right now.
Washing your hands & using hand sanitzer is of the upmost importance right now in order to stop the spread of the virus. But, if you've headed to the store in the past week, you've probably noticed that the shelves have been cleared out.
This is not a drill.
The threat of this epidemic is very real and more cases are appearing in the United States every single day.
So what can you do to keep yourself protected?
Wash Your Hands
If you were fortunate enough to get to the store & stock up on antibacterial hand soap before the situation escalated, be sure to use it and use it correctly!
Use clean water and soap whenever you can. I can’t express how important this is. Our hands are vectors that transport pathogens to our mouths, noses, eyes, other areas of the skin, from person to person directly or via contaminated surfaces and food. It only takes one asymptomatic person with coronavirus to sneeze near you in order for you to become infected, and probably without realizing it.
This is why it's so important for you to be constantly washing your hands, especially before touching your face.
And not just a quick rinse! Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Make sure that you're scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Soap works by creating a chemical reaction which breaks up dirt and makes it easy to wash away in water. The Ancient Babylonians were using it way back in 2800 BC and people have continued to use it throughout the centuries. Just not often enough at times!
This is the time to make sure you're washing your hands as often as possible! It is your best defense against this virus.
A recent study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asked volunteers to deliberately contaminate their hands by rubbing them over surfaces in public places like buses and museums. They found that washing hands with water alone reduced the level of fecal bacteria present by 49% but soap and water dropped it down to 81%. That’s a lot less poo floating around just from simple hand washing with soap and water!
Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
At this point, the last thing you want to do is head out into the crowds of people trying to pick up the last of the supplies. This will only increase your risk of being infected. And by now, the supplies are gone.
Fortunately, it's not too hard to make your own hand sanitizer from items you already have around your home.
Here's an easy recipe:
- 2 parts 91% isopropyl alcohol
- 1 part aloe vera gel
There's a good chance your in home first aid kit has isopropyl alcohol in it which you can use for this DIY hand sanitizer. If you want, you can even add water to make it into a spray or throw in some essential oils for a more appealing smell.
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The CDC does recommend that any homemade sanitizer contains 60-95% alcohol in order to ensure you're protected. But, what if you don't have any alcohol at home?
This is still NOT the time to head to the store. Check your house for these items that have disinfectant properties and have been used for centuries to clean:
- Witch Hazel
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- White Vinegar
Here are some other ways to keep yourself healthy & functioning during this outbreak. The following is by no means a definitive list but these hints and tips have helped keep me healthy and functioning when others have gone down.
Any backwoodsman or frontierswoman worth their salt will tell you that you can make soap by mixing lye with fat. Lye can be made from ash. Out in the field when I haven’t had access to soap I have often washed my hands with clean wood ash and water. The gritty texture helps to mechanically remove dirt and the high PH level kills germs. It’s harsh on your skin, very drying, and your hands typically look more dirty afterwards but they are actually much cleaner.
You can also use wood ash to clean cooking pots and utensils. By adding ash and water to an oily cooking pot and mushing it around you can remove the grease. When the ash, water and oils combine you are actually creating a rudimentary form of soap. The greasier the pot the better the soap. As ever, make sure your water is sterilized first by heating it to a rolling boil.
On a side note, ash is also a great covering for field toilets or ‘cat holes’. The ash dries out the feces and that combined with the high PH level helps destroy pathogens. It gets rid of nasty smells too which is never a bad thing and reduces flies, which is always a very good thing.
If you don’t have access to ash, clean dry soil or sand with water can also be effective for hand washing. There is no antibacterial action here (and it is possible that the soil itself may contain contaminants) but again the abrasive action of rubbing the grit against your skin removes grease and dirt that harbor germs.
On many occasions I have used the same knife to kill game, skin it, gut it, cook it and eat it. All without washing the blade in between times. To date, thankfully, I haven’t managed to give myself food poisoning. This is because I sterilize the knife with heat before I begin the cooking process.
You can do this by plunging the blade in the flames of a fire and holding it there for a while but I prefer to shove it into the hot coals of a fire. The temperatures are higher and it’s more controlled so you’re less likely to burn your hand.
During the hay days of the British Empire thousands of Brits and their families left the relative comfort and sophistication of olden days Britain and headed out to pastures new in Africa, the Middle East, India and beyond. They were exposed to an entirely alien way of living – different temperatures, customs, foods and different germs. One way they kept themselves healthy was by following a simple mantra when it came to eating:
“If you can boil it, peel it or cook it, you can eat it. If not, forget it.”
In survival scenarios, after natural disasters or when I’m traveling in remote locations I try and follow these rules to the letter. If it’s not you doing the cooking, police whoever is. Make sure your food is piping hot and thoroughly cooked. Avoid things like ice cream and salad like the plague.
Using a knife or other eating utensil, or even a stick with it’s bark stripped off, is great way to avoid putting dirty hands on your food when hand washing is unavailable. But obviously the implement itself must be clean.
I always carry a little flask of booze in my survival kit, if you can’t wash your fork or shove it in a fire, spirit alcohols such as whiskey and vodka make an excellent disinfectant. In eateries in far flung places I always order a whiskey with my meal, even breakfast, purely to sterilize the silverware. Though I have been known to drink it afterwards. Waste not, want not….!
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