I had the good fortune of being asked to teach at the Wilderness Medicine Society’s Desert Medicine Conference in Tucson last month. In addition to teaching several workshops on basic desert survival, I sat in on lectures by the leading physiologists, MDs, toxiclogogists, and sports-trainers in the world today. Most of these are folks who literally wrote the chapters on venomous creatures, heat-stress, and dehydration in wilderness medical manuals on the market today.
Following are some (scattered) notes from different lectures. This is not intended as medical advice so do your own homework before heading out to the desert or working in the heat and talk to the locals and resident physicians who live in those parts for the most current info as this material is constantly changing as research progresses.
Desert Medicine Notes, November 2011
Dehydration and Heat-Stress Issues
At 70% humidity or higher, sweating stops and is ineffective for heat dissipation.
Heat Stroke- 80% fatal if delayed more than 2 hours. Cool First, then transport, but avoid getting them hypothermic by cooling for too long! Lessons learned- if your kid/hiking partner has heat-stroke, cool them NOW and then deal with getting them out or transporting as the damage is considerable and potentially fatal the longer you wait.
Sunburn/Solar Radiation issue
A person will be more photo-sensitive if they are taking:
For every 1000 feet of elevation, there is a 4-7% increase in UVB. Clouds absorb only 30% UV rays.
Maximum SPF needed for protection is 30 SPF. Vitamin C ointment is excellent for sunburns and tissue recovery.
From a single rattlesnake bite, you may get 1-4 fang marks (maybe you got bit twice, maybe the snake had another fang growing in, etc…)
Most bites nowadays are middle-aged men (out barbecuing in backyard) or women (out gardening in backyard).
Treatmen in field: Immobilize limb (put arm in sling) to avoid lymphatic pumping and walk/get out. Anti-venom is critical, especially for kids. Time = Tissue so don’t waste precious time with John Wayne methods or gimmicks on the market, just get them to the ER.
Bees attack because of visual and olfactory factors so reducing these will help in your survival- Breathing and waving arms is what draws bees to you so run out of area, don’t swat them- just RUN, and cover eyes/mouth/nose while retreating. Once safe, pull stinger out any way you can, use poultice of wet salt. It’s a myth that you shouldn’t grab the stinger in your skin and pull out. Just get it out/scrape it, pull it, whatever.
3 million people or 1% of population are hypersensitive and there are around 50 deaths per year in US.
Yellowjackets are not found in the Sonoran Desert.
500,000 stings/year in Mexico
15,000/year in US
250 stings are severe, especially in childrens under 5 years of age. Anti-venom is key in treating so get kids (or adult who is not responding well) to hospital. Most people use ice/Ibuprofen. Kids and those with pre-exisiting health issues are at the greatest risk so don’t waste time if you suspect they were stung and call 911 and get them to the ER.
All this being said, have fun in the Land of Little Water.