Author Topic: Pestilence, pustules, and pyretics (minor illness/infection module)  (Read 2656 times)


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Minor illnesses (respiratory illnesses, headaches, minor infections, fever)

Minor illnesses can range from mildly annoying to fever induced misery.  While your exposure to contagious illness is usually much lower in remote settings (less people contact), you may become more susceptible to illness due to physiological stress lowering your immune response.  Some things that can lower your immune defenses include lack of quality sleep, dry air (drying the mucus membranes), severe heat or cold stress, poor diet, and psychological stress.

Prevention is simply avoiding and appropriately managing the above conditions (the best you can), and washing your hands like mama told you.  While I do not agree (nor will I dispute individual desire and faith unless harmful) to take handfuls of supplements, I will agree that a multi-vitamin can be helpful if your diet is expected to be poor for a period of time.

The vast majority of minor illness are MINOR annoyances, just keep aware of signs of dangerous changes and your body will most often take care of itself.  I am truly amazed, shocked, and mystified at the number of people who have no idea how to properly take care of themselves during a minor illness. 

Here are some simple tips to help determine if evacuation to a higher level of care is warranted:
Signs of respiratory distress: difficulty breathing, lightheaded, wheezing, ashen color, or skin retraction between ribs with labored breathing
Signs of significant infections: continuous high fever more than 3-5 days, delirium, severe lethargy
Others: stiff neck (meningitis), severe dehydration (dry mouth/eyes, rapid pulse, absent urine or continuously dark urine), significant pain in chest, back, or abdomen, more than small amounts of pus or blood coming from any body opening including lung sputum (lung mucus)
If you have underlying health risks (diabetes, respiratory, or cardiovascular disease, etc.)
Note: There is no way I can cover every sign/symptom of danger, but if your Mom, wife or husband tells you to come in, take your hind end in for a look. 
All of the above are advanced illnesses, this is another topic for another day.

Illnesses that rarely require the use of antibiotics:
Sinusitis (sinus infections)
Pharyngitis (sore throat)
Diarrhea (discussed here:

Sinusitis or Rhinitis
If my nose needs to run, then I want it to run. (I do not have allergies.)  For sinus pain or infection, I might take some ibuprofin.  In camp I will steam my face over a pot of water with a towel overhead, or eat some really spicy food, just to get that nose draining again.  If severe, I will irrigate the sinuses with some camp-made warm saline.  I try to make saline with non-iodized salt (iodine irritates the mucus membranes) but I use what I have if I must.  It does not take much salt, just enough that you can slightly taste it.  Why bother with salt at all?  Well, if some of the saline gets trapped in the sinus it does not promote further bacterial growth, and there is some discussion that the salt helps reduce swelling.
I don't take antibiotics for sinus infections, unless I think I have a sinus abscess or if it is truly debilitating (very rare).
Here is a good review of sinus flushing:

Pharyngitis (sore throat)
For a sore throat,  I might take some ibuprofin if it is really annoying, gargle some saline water in camp, and for severe throat pain gargle some crushed benadryl.  I don't take antibiotics for pharyngitis, unless I think I have a tonsilar abscess or if it is truly debilitating (very rare).  Kids are different because they are at a higher risk for rheumatic fever while most adults are at very very low risk (here in the U.S.A.).  I will cover this in a future pediatric care module.

Bronchitis (cough)
For a slight cough, I want to cough up whatever it brings up and spit it out.  If my cough is more than annoying, I breath some steam in camp.  If you have asthma, steam can sometimes aggravate the condition, so bring your meds.  If my cough interferes with sleeping I will take either Tylenol #3 or Vicodin 5/500 (codeine and hydrocodone suppress the cough reflex).  I don't like nor carry Vicodin in my 3-day kit, it is in my advanced kit.  I don't take antibiotics for bronchitis, unless I think I have moved onto pneumonia or if it is truly debilitating (somewhat rare).  I do carry a Z-pack (azithromycin) in my 3-day kit, but I also know when not to take it.

If I have a fever, I want that fever.  I have no need for a thermometer in basic kit, my wrist is highly calibrated with a Mom's on a routine basis.  I might treat fever with ibuprofen only if it is causing misery.  Tylenol (acetomeniphin) works too, but does not work for as long.  Fever myths are rampant, I probably spend 2 hours or more every working day just talking about the benefits of fever.  Maybe I will go into this rant another day or insomnia night.

If I have a minor headache, I want to know why.  Dehydration is the most common cause, but other things to think about are altitude, glucose (sugar) levels, muscle tension, and zombie virus.  (I don't believe in zombies, but I like people who do, so I remind them about it often.)  Severe HAs are rare in most, if you have a history of severe HA you should have it fully evaluated, and pack some prescription meds.  If I (or those of you with no history) had a severe HA with nausea and photophobia (light sensitivity), evacuate quickly because a number of things could be very wrong.  I take ibuprofen for minor HA only if it does not go away with hydrating and eating.  Another alternative for treating a vascular HA is a good strong cup of coffee, as the caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict, relieving the HA.  Caffeine can also cause further dehydration, so hydrate well.  Often caffeine withdrawal is a cause of HAs.

Minor skin infections
I put this topic here because it covers not only early treatment of advanced wounds, but abscesses and cellulitis.  To keep this concise, if you get pain, redness (or red streaks), heat, swelling, and/or pus (exudate) draining from a wound/burn or abscess larger than a quarter, begin to move to advanced care.  Don't squeeze abscesses or cellulitis thinking it will help clear the problem, as this can make it much worse.  If I have a small abscess or cellulitis, I put hot moist compresses on it 30 min 4 times per day, increasing the circulation to help the body fight it, sometimes “bringing it out”, so the abscess is ready to properly drain when I reach my advanced kit.  I would also slather either a light coat of bacitracin ointment or honey if the skin was necrotic (breaking down)    For an abscess, if it gets larger than a quarter and is necrotic/oozing pus, I begin to take some doxycycline 100mg two times per day.  For cellulitis, if it gets larger than a quarter or streaking more than an inch, (just hot, red and painful without oozing pus), I take the above and add cephalexin (Keflex) 500mg 3 x per day.   Different potential bugs, different bug killer.  If I can't test what it is, so I have to treat the most likely.  Yet another topic for another day. 

Finally, here is what I carry in my 3-day remote care first-aid kit for minor illness:
As I add the different “modules” to the kit, I make note of duplicate items and usually keep only one set of each item.
1 Z-pack 5-day (azythromyacin) 250mg, (six tabs)
10 tabs doxycycline 100mg
10 tabs cephalexin 500mg
Note: some of these are not a full-course of treatment, just enough to get to my advanced kit.
10 tabs Tylenol #3
10 Capsules Benadryl (diphenhydramine) 25mg (multiple uses)
1 1qt. Zip-lock freezer bag (for saline irrigation)
4 packets of salt (prefer non-iodized)

Pain/Inflammation/Fever Control:
Ibuprofin (Ranger Candy), I carry at least 30 tabs of 200mg (lower dosing for kids) or 10 tabs of 600mg, enough for using it at 600mg strength 3 times per day for three days.  I find 600mg works just as well for me as 800mg, and some studies support my observations.  Less = less side effects for some things like Ibuprofin
Naprosyn, I carry enough for 500mg twice per day for three days.

(Don't take my advice without proper training, ALWAYS consult your medical provider before taking ANY medications OR providing medical treatment.)
« Last Edit: May 01, 2013, 12:08:11 AM by Archer »