Medical Hazards to the Outdoorsman

by Dennis MD, PhD, Capt USN (Ret) and Carolyn Johnson, RN

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United States -(AmmoLand.com)- At the risk of boring the reader, here are some facts we'd like to pass along about adventures in the boonies.

Bacteria rapidly adapt to harsh conditions because they can reshuffle their genes in a flash because they replicate in minutes. Moreover, once they have achieved the correct genetic recombination that solves their environmental problem , they can readily transfer those genes to their neighbors. This capability has allowed them to exploit every seemingly uninhabitable ecosystem imaginable. They flourish everywhere from nuclear reactor cooling systems to barrels of crude oil.

Similarly, the in-discriminant use of antibiotics has generated resistant bacteria. First in hospitals, where MRSA , an antibiotic-resistant pathogen, emerged. It didn't stop there. Many more microbes have acclimated to antibiotics while the development of new antibacterial agents lags behind their adaptive powers.

Currently, the risk of contracting an antibiotic-resistant infection in our communities is approaching that only once seen in hospitals. How could this happen?

The proven method of producing microbial resistance is to expose the bugs to a low concentration of antibiotic. Killing microorganisms requires a sludge hammer dose of antibiotics to stop dead any possibility of genetic revival because nonlethal levels encourage the critters to divide and conquer. That's what's happening in today's countryside.

Just go to any Farm and Home store and you can buy front-line antibiotics for your pets without a prescription and most livestock feeds contain antibiotics as a “growth factor”. Animals, in turn, excrete these reagents into our environment. In fact, our soil , streams and lakes are fast becoming contaminated by low concentrations of our best antibiotics . As I have documented, a perfect set-up for generating resistant species.

So what is the take home message here? A hunter traversing the backwoods through brush and over barbwire fences commonly suffers nicks, cuts and abrasions not to mention insect bites. That's where the problem can start.

Years ago one could barefoot through chicken coop droppings with little threat of infection. But now, livestock excreta is a dilute soup of antibiotics laced with resistant bacteria. Stubbing your toe in the barnyard isn't as safe these days.

There's some nasty bugs out there and even though the probability is still low for contracting a resistant infection, why take a chance?

Bluetongue Virus Deer EHD
Bluetongue Virus Deer EHD

We've seen bad infections that too often begin with what the victim considers a “minor” injury. It makes good sense to treat all skin disruptions with respect. They should be thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible and bandaged securely after applying an over-the-counter topical antibiotic ointment.

Puncture wounds are especially problematic because they may be impossible to cleanse properly. These wounds are deeper and encourage another group of organisms that multiply under low oxygen conditions. So called “flesh-eating” bacteria get their start in these penetrating wounds. Gangrene and tetanus are serious infections caused by this group. Good reason to keep your tetanus inoculations current. Anytime a wound becomes red, hot, and swollen, especially with a fever, it's time to seek medical attention. Such lesions may require surgical treatment to avert more serious complications.

Obviously, it is necessary to wear appropriate protective clothing when out in the sticks but, in spite of that, if you suffer a minor injury, treat it promptly. Don't take antibiotics for a cold or the flu because they do not kill viruses. If you take an antibiotic, complete the prescribed course and don't stop when you start to feel better. Don't take a few left over antibiotic pills from a friend when you're feeling bad. All these examples potentially expose an infection to a nonlethal dose of antibiotics.

We hope the reader has a better appreciation for the necessity to promptly attend to inadvertent wounds incurred during treks to the boondocks.

  • 6 thoughts on “Medical Hazards to the Outdoorsman

    1. Having needed emergency treatment for a sepsis infection ,I am now well aware of the dangers of infection.
      My infection started ou as a blocked follicle under my arm. It got red and sore over a period of a week. I treated it like most of us do, I ignored it . Finally it got to a point where I had a high fever and delerium . My wife rushed me to emerg, where they cut my underarm open right away and started IV anti biotics.
      2 days I was back home , but it took 3 weeks of dressing changes till the wound healed , they had to cut away a lot of flesh to stop the infection.
      Lesson learned ,I am now more attentive to even the smallest nicks and cuts.

      Great article.

    2. This explains something that was bothering me: namely how in the world did we survive as a species if infections are so numerous. Now it seems as if we were in a less dangerous world, infection wise, in the past. Then we won a great battle with the invention of antibiotics, only to rest on our laurels and think that war with infection was a thing of the past, less enlightened eras. Kind of a good analogy for the current state of Western Civilization.

    3. Forgot about a few dangerous ones: Lyme Disease ( can be deadly ) and Bartonella ( nusance mostly )
      Got Lyme at the range, even with bug spray, was bitten by a deer tick, which are very active in warm/hot weather. You may not even know you have been bitten, so a good inspection is important after a day out in the fields, also only a percentage of bites produce the “red ring” Lyme is known for at the site of the bite. I would not wish this on my worse enemy, it’s painful and debilitating, and affects vary from person to person.
      http://www.valleybreeze.com/2015-12-27/pawtucket/geraghty-succumbs-after-two-year-battle-lyme-disease#.VoPchlJMQxI

      1. Many people who are bitten by deer ticks and seek medical attention are told by their health care providers to wait a couple of weeks to see if symptoms of Lyme appears. If this happens insist on getting a test now. Of course it is the smart thing to bring the tick with you in a plastic bag. Do not hesitate to demand a test, many doctors are not fully knowledgeable about the effects of Lyme disease. A very good friend of mine recently nearly died when he came down with Lyme disease after being bitten by a deer tick while scouting a hunting lease. He lucked out and brought the dead tick with him and was seen by a new recently graduated intern who tested him that day and determined he was infected. He received all the antibiotics recommended in the treatment of Lyme. He spent 12 days in the hospital, and was really ill. He is better now, but like surviving cancer, he will always have Lyme.

        As far as antibiotics go, for you preppers out there, you can not do better than aquarium fish antibiotics. They are encapsulated by the very same companies that manufacture for pharmacies. The doses are the very same as well, such as 250mg per cap, or 500mg per cap. I recommend one study up a little on gram-negative and gram-positive organisms. Some antibiotics are more effective on one, or another, and some are proven to be best for either. However, the fish antibiotics offer the very same ones your doctor prescribes to you through a pharmacy. Fish antibiotics are much cheaper and do not require a prescription…yet. Check them out on Amazon.com

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