Biological Survival Skills
Every emergency situation requires different skills
to cope with the crisis. Being prepared is essential
to your survival. The following is the most basic biological
survival skills that everyone should know, and practice
in order to be prepared for survival.
Skills are the fundamental skills of survival
that will be needed for nearly every survival
[Reprinted as permitted
by U.S. Department of the Army from field manual FM
The use of biological agents is real.
Prepare yourself for survival by being proficient in
the tasks identified in your Soldier's Manuals of Common
Tasks (SMCTs). Know what to do to protect yourself against
Biological agents are microorganisms
that can cause disease among personnel, animals, or
plants. They can also cause the deterioration of material.
These agents fall into two broad categories-pathogens
(usually called germs) and toxins. Pathogens are living
microorganisms that cause lethal or incapacitating diseases.
Bacteria, rickettsiae, fungi, and viruses are included
in the pathogens. Toxins are poisons that plants, animals,
or microorganisms produce naturally. Possible biological
war-fare toxins include a variety of neurotoxic (affecting
the central nervous system) and cytotoxic (causing cell
Germs are living organisms. Some nations
have used them in the past as weapons. Only a few germs
can start an infection, especially if inhaled into the
lungs. Because germs are so small and weigh so little,
the wind can spread them over great distances; they
can also enter unfiltered or nonairtight places. Buildings
and bunkers can trap them thus causing a higher concentration.
Germs do not affect the body immediately. They must
multiply inside the body and overcome the body's defenses--a
process called the incubation period. Incubation periods
vary from several hours to several months, depending
on the germ. Most germs must live within another living
organism (host), such as your body, to survive and grow.
Weather conditions such as wind, rain, cold, and sunlight
rapidly kill germs.
Some germs can form protective shells,
or spores, to allow survival outside the host. Spore-producing
agents are a long-term hazard you must neutralize by
decontaminating infected areas or personnel. Fortunately,
most live agents are not spore-producing. These agents
must find a host within roughly a day of their delivery
or they die. Germs have three basic routes of entry
into your body: through the respiratory tract, through
a break in the skin, and through the digestive tract.
Symptoms of infection vary according to the disease.
Toxins are substances that plants,
animals, or germs produce naturally. These toxins are
what actually harm man, not bacteria. Botulin, which
produces botulism, is an example. Modern science has
allowed large-scale production of these toxins without
the use of the germ that produces the toxin. Toxins
may produce effects similar to those of chemical agents.
Toxic victims may not, however, respond to first aid
measures used against chemical agents. Toxins enter
the body in the same manner as germs. However, some
toxins, unlike germs, can penetrate unbroken skin. Symptoms
appear almost immediately, since there is no incubation
period. Many toxins are extremely lethal, even in very
small doses. Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Mental confusion.
- Blurred or double vision.
- Numbness or tingling of skin.
- Rashes or blisters.
- Aching muscles.
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
- Bleeding from body openings.
- Blood in urine, stool, or saliva.
Detection of Biological
Biological agents are, by nature, difficult
to detect. You cannot detect them by any of the five
physical senses. Often, the first sign of a biological
agent will be symptoms of the victims exposed to the
agent. Your best chance of detecting biological agents
before they can affect you is to recognize their means
of delivery. The three main means of delivery are--
- Bursting-type munitions.
These may be bombs or projectiles whose burst causes
very little damage. The burst will produce a small
cloud of liquid or powder in the immediate impact
area. This cloud will disperse eventually; the rate
of dispersion depends on terrain and weather conditions.
- Spray tanks or generators.
Aircraft or vehicle spray tanks or ground-level aerosol
generators produce an aerosol cloud of biological
- Vectors. Insects such as
mosquitoes, fleas, lice, and ticks deliver pathogens.
Large infestations of these insects may indicate the
use of biological agents.
Another sign of a possible biological
attack is the presence of unusual substances on the
ground or on vegetation, or sick-looking plants, crops,
Influence of Weather
Your knowledge of how weather and terrain
affect the agents can help you avoid contamination by
biological agents. Major weather factors that affect
biological agents are sunlight, wind, and precipitation.
Aerosol sprays will tend to concentrate in low areas
of terrain, similar to early morning mist.
Sunlight contains visible and ultraviolet
solar radiation that rapidly kills most germs used as
biological agents. However, natural or man-made cover
may protect some agents from sunlight. Other man-made
mutant strains of germs may be resistant to sunlight.
High wind speeds increase the dispersion
of biological agents, dilute their concentration, and
dehydrate them. The further downwind the agent travels,
the less effective it becomes due to dilution and death
of the pathogens. However, the downwind hazard area
of the biological agent is significant and you cannot
Precipitation in the form of moderate
to heavy rain tends to wash biological agents out of
the air, reducing downwind hazard areas. However, the
agents may still be very effective where they were deposited
on the ground.
While you must maintain a healthy respect
for biological agents, there is no reason for you to
panic. You can reduce your susceptibility to biological
agents by maintaining current immunizations, avoiding
contaminated areas, and controlling rodents and pests.
You must also use proper first aid measures in the treatment
of wounds and only safe or properly decontaminated sources
of food and water. You must ensure that you get enough
sleep to prevent a run-down condition. You must always
use proper field sanitation procedures.
Assuming you do not have a protective
mask, always try to keep your face covered with some
type of cloth to protect yourself against biological
agent aerosols. Dust may contain biological agents;
wear some type of mask when dust is in the air.
Your uniform and gloves will protect
you against bites from vectors (mosquitoes and ticks)
that carry diseases. Completely button your clothing
and tuck your trousers tightly into your boots. Wear
a chemical protective overgarment, if available, as
it provides better protection than normal clothing.
Covering your skin will also reduce the chance of the
agent entering your body through cuts or scratches.
Always practice high standards of personal hygiene and
sanitation to help prevent the spread of vectors.
Bathe with soap and water whenever
possible. Use germicidal soap, if available. Wash your
hair and body thoroughly, and clean under your fingernails.
Clean teeth, gums, tongue, and the roof of your mouth
frequently. Wash your clothing in hot, soapy water if
you can. If you cannot wash your clothing, lay it out
in an area of bright sunlight and allow the light to
kill the microorganisms. After a toxin attack, decontaminate
yourself as if for a chemical attack using the M258A2
kit (if available) or by washing with soap and water.
You can build expedient shelters under
biological contamination conditions using the same techniques
described in Chapter 5. However, you must make slight
changes to reduce the chance of biological contamination.
Do not build your shelter in depressions in the ground.
Aerosol sprays tend to concentrate in these depressions.
Avoid building your shelter in areas of vegetation,
as vegetation provides shade and some degree of protection
to biological agents. Avoid using vegetation in constructing
your shelter. Place your shelter's entrance at a 90-degree
angle to the prevailing winds. Such placement will limit
the entry of airborne agents and prevent air stagnation
in your shelter. Always keep your shelter clean.
Water procurement under biological
conditions is difficult but not impossible. Whenever
possible, try to use water that has been in a sealed
container. You can assume that the water inside the
sealed container is not contaminated. Wash the water
container thoroughly with soap and water or boil it
for at least 10 minutes before breaking the seal.
If water in sealed containers is not
available, your next choice, only under emergency
conditions, is water from springs. Again, boil the
water for at least 10 minutes before drinking. Keep
the water covered while boiling to prevent contamination
by airborne pathogens. Your last choice, only in
an extreme emergency, is to use standing water.
Vectors and germs can survive easily in stagnant water.
Boil this water as long as practical to kill all organisms.
Filter this water through a cloth to remove the dead
vectors. Use water purification tablets in all cases.
Food procurement, like water procurement,
is not impossible, but you must take special precautions.
Your combat rations are sealed, and you can assume they
are not contaminated. You can also assume that sealed
containers or packages of processed food are safe. To
ensure safety, decontaminate all food containers by
washing with soap and water or by boiling the container
in water for 10 minutes.
You consider supplementing your
rations with local plants or animals only in extreme
emergencies. No matter what you do to prepare the
food, there is no guarantee that cooking will kill all
the biological agents. Use local food only in life or
death situations. Remember, you can survive for a long
time without food, especially if the food you eat may
If you must use local food, select
only healthy-looking plants and animals. Do not select
known carriers of vectors such as rats or other vermin.
Select and prepare plants as you would in radioactive
areas. Prepare animals as you do plants. Always use
gloves and protective clothing when handling animals
or plants. Cook all plant and animal food by boiling
only. Boil all food for at least 10 minutes to kill
all pathogens. Do not try to fry, bake, or roast local
food. There is no guarantee that all infected portions
have reached the required temperature to kill all pathogens.
Do not eat raw food.
as permitted by U.S. Department of the Army from field
manual FM 21-76]