emergency shelter

Residents of Springfield, Missouri, gather in an emergency shelter during an ice storm in January 2007.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Hurricane season is upon us. Some can take that literally right now. But my suggestions can be applied to any disaster, or any time you might have to spend a little close, quality time in a group shelter. Things that could prevent you from catching some nasty infection while you’re there.

The CDC has great information on supplies that would be good to bring to an emergency shelter. It’s always a good idea to pre-pack so you won’t forget something essential, like a prescription medicine, at the last minute.

I’d like to add a few infection-prevention items you might not have thought of. Things you can stuff in that won’t take up much room.

1. Antibacterial Waterless Wipes

Use the alcohol-based type. You’ve probably got some lying around. The gel will do also. Just make sure the lid is good and tight.

In an emergency shelter, water is at a premium and germs run amok. The typical way you get a respiratory or intestinal infection is somebody coughs, sneezes, or wipes their nose (or their hiney) and touches an object. You come along, touch the object, then your nose or mouth. Pinkeye is spread that way also. Since hand-to-mouth, or hand-to-nose, is a major way to spread infection, keeping your hands clean is essential to prevent infections.

If you’re afraid your hands will dry out, bring a little moisturizing lotion. And don’t think you’ll just not touch your face. Everyone does it multiple times a day without thinking.

Books ad2. Masks

Somebody’s going to be coughing; odds are they’ll be close by. Many won’t cover their nose and mouth—especially kids.

Stuff several disposable surgical masks in your bag. They take up no room. Actually even a clean scarf or handkerchief will do.

Here’s another idea: Bring a few of those N95 masks. They’re more expensive but they catch more germs. Offer one to the person doing the coughing. The best way to prevent airborne infections is to catch the germs at the source.

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3. Water Bottles With Filters

Most community shelters will have drinkable water available, and if you have time and room, I expect you may be packing some bottled water of your own. Another option is to slip a plastic bottle and filter in your pack. Berkey bottles are great, but you could probably find a sale in a sporting goods store, as long as you don’t wait until the last minute.

4. Over-the-Counter Medicines

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get headaches when I’m stressed. Pack a few of your favorite headache relievers, along with some antacids and maybe a little diphenydramine (Benadryl). If you don’t need it for allergies, maybe it can help you get to sleep.

How about a small tube of antibiotic ointment and a few Band-Aids for those scratches you’re bound to get? And everyone has their own problems. Hemorrhoids, constipation? Pack something for them.

The point is, don’t forget the little things. They can go a long way.

I’m sure you’ve thought of other things. Please share.


Note: I have no relationship to the products mentioned in this article. I don’t vouch for them, and links aren’t affiliate links. The article is simply for general information.

FEMA Photo by Mike Raphael.