Drawing: Cobra helicopter Drawing: Cobra helicopter
Chapter 4 - Page 5


An interruption of the skin's integrity characterizes wounds. These wounds could be open wounds, skin diseases, frostbite, trench foot, and burns.

Open Wounds

Open wounds are serious in a survival situation, not only because of tissue damage and blood loss, but also because they may become infected. Bacteria on the object that made the wound, on the individual's skin and clothing, or on other foreign material or dirt that touches the wound may cause infection.

By taking proper care of the wound you can reduce further contamination and promote healing. Clean the wound as soon as possible after it occurs by —

The “open treatment” method is the safest way to manage wounds in survival situations. Do not try to close any wound by suturing or similar procedures. Leave the wound open to allow the drainage of any pus resulting from infection. As long as the wound can drain, it generally will not become life-threatening, regardless of how unpleasant it looks or smells.

Cover the wound with a clean dressing. Place a bandage on the dressing to hold it in place. Change the dressing daily to check for infection.

If a wound is gaping, you can bring the edges together with adhesive tape cut in the form of a “butterfly” or “dumbbell” ( Figure 4-7).

Figure 4-7. Butterfly closure

In a survival situation, some degree of wound infection is almost inevitable. Pain, swelling, and redness around the wound, increased temperature, and pus in the wound or on the dressing indicate infection is present.

To treat an infected wound —

Continue this treatment daily until all signs of infection have disappeared.

If you do not have antibiotics and the wound has become severely infected, does not heal, and ordinary debridement is impossible, consider maggot therapy, despite its hazards:

Skin Diseases and Ailments

Although boils, fungal infections, and rashes rarely develop into a serious health problem, they cause discomfort and you should treat them.


Apply warm compresses to bring the boil to a head. Then open the boil using a sterile knife, wire, needle, or similar item. Thoroughly clean out the pus using soap and water. Cover the boil site, checking it periodically to ensure no further infection develops.

Fungal Infections

Keep the skin clean and dry, and expose the infected area to as much sunlight as possible. Do not scratch the affected area. During the Southeast Asian conflict, soldiers used antifungal powders, lye soap, chlorine bleach, alcohol, vinegar, concentrated salt water, and iodine to treat fungal infections with varying degrees of success. As with any "unorthodox" method of treatment, use it with caution.


To treat a skin rash effectively, first determine what is causing it. This determination may be difficult even in the best of situations. Observe the following rules to treat rashes:

Use a compress of vinegar or tannic acid derived from tea or from boiling acorns or the bark of a hardwood tree to dry weeping rashes. Keep dry rashes moist by rubbing a small amount of rendered animal fat or grease on the affected area.

Remember, treat rashes as open wounds and clean and dress them daily. There are many substances available to survivors in the wild or in captivity for use as antiseptics to treat wound:

Again, use noncommercially prepared materials with caution.


This injury results from frozen tissues. Light frostbite involves only the skin that takes on a dull, whitish pallor. Deep frostbite extends to a depth below the skin. The tissues become solid and immovable. Your feet, hands, and exposed facial areas are particularly vulnerable to frostbite.

When with others, prevent frostbite by using the buddy system. Check your buddy's face often and make sure that he checks yours. If you are alone, periodically cover your nose and lower part of your face with your mittens.

Do not try to thaw the affected areas by placing them close to an open flame. Gently rub them in lukewarm water. Dry the part and place it next to your skin to warm it at body temperature.

Trench Foot

This condition results from many hours or days of exposure to wet or damp conditions at a temperature just above freezing. The nerves and muscles sustain the main damage, but gangrene can occur. In extreme cases the flesh dies and it may become necessary to have the foot or leg amputated. The best prevention is to keep your feet dry. Carry extra socks with you in a waterproof packet. Dry wet socks against your body. Wash your feet daily and put on dry socks.


The following field treatment for burns relieves the pain somewhat, seems to help speed healing, and offers some protection against infection:


Heatstroke, hypothermia, diarrhea, and intestinal parasites are environmental injuries you could face.


The breakdown of the body's heat regulatory system (body temperature more than 40.5 degrees C [105 degrees F]) causes a heatstroke. Other heat injuries, such as cramps or dehydration, do not always precede a heatstroke. Signs and symptoms of heatstroke are —

Note: By this time the victim is in severe shock. Cool the victim as rapidly as possible. Cool him by dipping him in a cool stream. If one is not available, douse the victim with urine, water, or at the very least, apply cool wet com-presses to all the joints, especially the neck, armpits, and crotch. Be sure to wet the victim's head. Heat loss through the scalp is great. Administer IVs and provide drinking fluids. You may fan the individual.

Expect, during cooling —

Note: Treat for dehydration with lightly salted water.


Defined as the body's failure to maintain a temperature of 36 degrees C (97 degrees F). Exposure to cool or cold temperature over a short or long time can cause hypothermia. Dehydration and lack of food and rest predispose the survivor to hypothermia.

Unlike heatstroke, you must gradually warm the hypothermia victim. Get the victim into dry clothing. Replace lost fluids, and warm him.


A common, debilitating ailment caused by a change of water and food, drinking contaminated water, eating spoiled food, becoming fatigued, and using dirty dishes. You can avoid most of these causes by practicing preventive medicine. If you get diarrhea, however, and do not have antidiarrheal medicine, one of the following treatments may be effective:

Intestinal Parasites

You can usually avoid worm infestations and other intestinal parasites if you take preventive measures. For example, never go barefoot. The most effective way to prevent intestinal parasites is to avoid uncooked meat and raw vegetables contaminated by raw sewage or human waste used as a fertilizer. However, should you become infested and lack proper medicine, you can use home remedies. Keep in mind that these home remedies work on the principle of changing the environment of the gastrointestinal tract. The following are home remedies you could use:


Our modern wonder drugs, laboratories, and equipment have obscured more primitive types of medicine involving determination, common sense, and a few simple treatments. In many areas of the world, however, the people still depend on local "witch doctors" or healers to cure their ailments. Many of the herbs (plants) and treatments they use are as effective as the most modern medications available. In fact, many modern medications come from refined herbs.

Use herbal medicines with extreme care, however, and only when you lack or have limited medical supplies. Some herbal medicines are dangerous and may cause further damage or even death. See Chapter 9, Survival Use of Plants, for some basic herbal medicine treatments.
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Updated: 12 January 2008
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