The Importance of Personal and Area Sanitation during a Crisis

Personal Sanitation

Concerns include the spread of diseases caused by human contact and contamination of food and water. Dirty hands will spread contaminates to food, water, and contact surfaces throughout the home. Just because the water supply is disrupted does not mean you forgo proper sanitation, in fact you need to be even more diligent during a crisis. You may not have access to medical care or medications so it is important that you do everything you can to keep diseases in check.

Disasters can lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases. We have seen this time and again with natural disasters. In some cases the diseases after the crisis has struck cause more loss of life than the disaster itself.

Diseases that cause diarrhea account for over 40 percent of deaths in disaster and refugee camp settings in developing countries. Of course the United States is a developed country, but a prolonged crisis could create a situation that promotes the spread of infectious diseases.

Epidemics in some countries are typically related to polluted water sources, sources contaminated by fecal matter. Water can also be contaminated during transportation and storage if proper procedures are not followed.

Diarrhea is a symptom of infections caused by a host of bacterial, viral, and parasitic organisms. Usually the infections are spread by feces-contaminated water. Infection is most common when there is a shortage of adequate sanitation and hygiene and safe water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning (WHO, 2015).

Clean Water is Essential

Protecting what water you do have is equally important. Private Wells can also be contaminated by floodwaters, ground runoff and if a makeshift latrine is located too close or you begin to burn garbage close by that would allow toxins to leach into the soil. 

Human waste as well as household waste will build up. People may burn it or try to, or simply allow it to pile up on their property and inside of their homes, all of which will promote the spread of diseases.

You need water for drinking, as well as, for personal grooming and area cleaning. Ideally you would have the ability to heat the water for bathing, hand washing and for dishwashing. You can use pre-moistened wipes and hand sanitizer for your personal cleanliness needs to conserve on water.

You cannot just use the backyard for your bathroom. You need a latrine that is 200 feet or more away from a water source, has a containment area, and is vented to remove methane gases from the pit if the pit is not an open one.

Makeshift methods would include “portable potties” that use chemicals to reduce odor and to control bacteria and specially designed bags for human waste.

Sewers may very well be shut down and certain septic systems do require electricity to operate. For those that have their own wells they would need a power source for the water pumps. Additionally, those with a private well that need a purification system will need to consider alternative power sources for the system.

People grouped together will spread body lice, as well as, infectious diseases so it is crucial that everyone wash their hands/ use hand sanitizer, keep their hair trimmed and washed and bathe regularly. Dirty clothing can spread diseases as well, so you must have an ample supply of clean water for laundering of clothes and other items.

Keep your area clean and never allow garbage to pile up inside the home. Most household garbage will not burn completely unless you have the means to create enough heat to incinerate it. If you simply pile it up and try to burn it you will end up with a toxic mass leaching into the ground and it will attract rodents, insects, and predators.

You can bury it or contain it in heavy garbage barrels with lids. Simply bagging it up and tossing it to the curb or letting it pile up in the backyard will create problems for you down the road.

For most of you the crisis will be a repetition of mundane tasks that will take on more meaning during the crisis. It will be harder to prepare meals, give baths to the children and harder to keep the home clean but it must all be done.

You will have to make sure the home is kept clean, and this will be more difficult with everyone essentially grouped together. If you have animals they will need to be sheltered and kept clean as well. If allowed to roam the neighborhood they may get into garbage and refuse piles and carry contaminates back home, so special care must be given to your animals.

Common household bleach should be in all homes for disaffecting of surfaces, dishware, and even clothing in some cases.

Hand sanitizer uses alcohol to destroy bacteria while scrubbing the hands with water and soap emulsifies the bacteria that are clinging to the hands so it can be removed by friction and by rinsing with water.

Washing the hands vigorously using soap and water for 20 seconds is one of the more effective ways or removing bacteria and to help stop or slow the spread of viruses. Hand sanitizer will not work as well when there is visible dirt and grime on the hands. Hand sanitizer destroys certain microbes on the hands it does not necessarily clean the hands, but it is an excellent alternative when soap and water is not available.