Using Antibiotics When The SHTF: Knowing This May Save Your Life

| October 10, 2013 |


Every prepper can agree upon the importance of a properly stocked first-aid kid in a SHTF scenario.  With that said, not many go beyond a few bandages, gauze, painkillers, and antibiotic ointment.  Those things will work for a scrape or headache, but failure to treat a serious infection during a disaster could result in your death or that of a member of your party.

That’s where antibiotics come in.  There are multiple varieties of antibiotics that are responsible for fighting different bacteria in different parts of the body.  Knowing which types of antibiotics combat which infections and stockpiling them appropriately could give you a serious health edge in a survival scenario.

Keep in mind that not all antibiotics are readily available to the average consumer.  Some countries (like Canada and Mexico) are more liberal about dispensing antibiotics than places like the United States, where they are usually only available in prescription form–though the veterinary varieties can be suitable alternatives.

You should always consult a doctor before considering which antibiotics to choose for your medical stores.  Some individuals experience serious allergic reactions to certain antibiotics–especially the penicillin variety–that could result in anaphylactic shock.  Proper examination to determine the cause of an ailment is necessary to decide which antibiotic can be used for effective treatment.

Types of Antibiotics

There are five main types of antibiotics: Beta-lactams (Penicillin), Macrolides, Flouroquinolones, Tetracyclines, Aminoglycosides.  Each of these antibiotics has a different affect on the body and is used to fight different bacteria.

Beta-lactams (penicillin)

The discovery of penicillin is attributed to Alexander Fleming in 1928.  Penicillins are considered the oldest form of antibiotics, but also one of the most effective and versatile.  Penicillins are bactericidal, meaning they kill bacterial cells by preventing the formation of cell walls.  Antibiotics of the penicillin variety typically have the same “-cillin” suffix, the most common of which are ampicillin, amoxicillin, methicillin, and oxacillin.

Penicillins treat a variety of bacterial infections including:

  • Skin infections
  • Mouth infections
  • Ear infections
  • Respiratory tract
  • Urinary tract
  • Chlamydia/gonorrhea
  • Lyme’s disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis/tonsillitis
  • Anthrax

Another common form of beta-lactams are cephalosporins.  They work in similar ways to penicillins and can treat the same infections in addition to staph infections and bone infections.  Cephalosporins are also used to prevent the onset of infections during surgical procedures.


Flouroquinolones are a relatively modern form of synthetic antibiotic that are not derived from a bacterial source.  Still, they are bactericidal and disrupt a bacterial cell’s ability to create DNA.  Common flouroquinolones medicines end in the “-floxacin” suffix and include ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, lomefloxacin, norlfloxacin, and sparfloxacin.

Flouroquinolones are used as an alternative to penicillins and macrolides to treat:

  • –          Urinary tract infections
  • –          Gastrointestinal infections
  • –          Skin infections


Macrolides are a bacteriostatic form of antibiotics that are often used to treat infections in the lungs by inhibiting bacterial protein synthesis.  Antibiotics of the macrolide variety typically have a “-mycin” suffix in the name, including azithromycin, clarithromycin, dirithromycin, erythromycin, roxithromycin, and troleandomycin.

In addition to lung and respiratory infections, macrolides are often used to treat:

  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Skin infections
  • Genital infections


Like macrolides, tetracyclines are bacteriostatic antibiotics derived from the Streptomyces bacteria and used to fight protein synthesis in bacterial cells.  Tetracyclines often take the “-cycline” suffix and common forms include doxycycline, minocycline, and oxytetracycline.

Tetracycline antibiotics can be used to treat infections in the ear, skin, intestines, urinary tract and respiratory tract.  Other treatments include:

  • Sinus infections
  • Typhus
  • Chronic acne
  • Rosacea


Aminoglycosides are bactericidal antibiotics that are often used in combination with one of the beta-lactams (penicillin and cephalosporins).  Unlike most antibiotics that can be administered orally, aminoglycosides must be injected.  Notable varieties of aminoglycoside antibiotics include amikacin, neomycin, tobramycin, gentamicin, streptomycin, and kanamycin.

Aminoglycosides have been found to be effective in treating anthrax, bubonic plague, and tularemia.

Antibiotic Usage During a Crisis

In normal cases, antibiotics are prescribed for a duration between one and three weeks.  When SHTF and your antibiotic choices and quantities are limited, a less-regimented course will likely be called for.  You may have multiple members of a survival party suffering from the same ailment and need to ration what medicine you have.

With that said, antibiotics should be administered from the onset of symptoms–once properly identified–until 72 hours after the symptoms dissipate.  Higher doses may need to be taken in the initial stages, following a gradual reduction as symptoms subside and medical quantities reduce.  Again, consult a medical professional before determining which varieties of antibiotics should be used for individual infections.

Most antibiotics are prescribed in doses of 250mg or 500mg, with some exceptions having lower doses.  Some are recommended to be taken every 6, 8, 10, or 12 hours.  In a SHTF scenario, 2 pills a day should suffice to induce the bacteria fighting process, but consult a doctor before going on assumption.

Potential Side Effects

Each class of antibiotics comes with its own set of associated side effects, though all varieties are relatively safe for most patients.  Allergic reactions are the most common side effect, but most suffering from these conditions are already aware from previous instances.  Other common side effects include things like:

  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Cramps
  • Sensitive skin
  • Kidney damage

Some antibiotics can cause complications with pregnancy in women.  Tetracyclines in particular are not recommended as they can damage the liver and kidneys and inhibit the growth of the baby’s teeth.  Aminoglycosides are also capable of causing kidney damage and hearing problems.  Flouroquinolones commonly cause headaches and dizziness and should also be avoided by pregnant women.

Stockpiling Antibiotics

In the United States, drug companies do testing in conjunction with the FDA and military to determine their shelf life.  They’ve concluded that the majority of antibiotic medications maintain their effectiveness for up to 15 years.  Like food and other medicine, the life of an antibiotic depends largely on the environment where it is stored.  Cool and dry conditions are preferred over hot and humid conditions for a prolonged life.  Proper airtight containers, vacuum sealing, and oxygen-absorbing tabs can aid in prolonging a medication’s shelf life.

When the SHTF, your own intuition may be all you have to go on to keep you alive.  You may have to self-administer your own medical care or find yourself having to treat another.  Learn as much as you can now about survival first-aid and medicine to be prepared when disaster strikes.


Category: Medical, Survival Guides

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