How to Avoid or Treat Dysentery Under Primitive Conditions

Now before you read this article, I want you to understand that I have had no formal medical training and I strongly recommend that if you have any of these symptoms you get medical help from trained professionals.

Dysentery has historically been known as the flux or the bloody flux, it is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon, that results in severe diarrhea containing mucus and/or blood in the feces with fever, abdominal pain, and rectal tenesmus (a feeling of incomplete defecation), caused by an infection.  During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, more men died from this than died in combat.

Dysentery can be caused by viral infections, bacterial infections, or parasitic infestations.  These pathogens typically reach the large intestine orally, through ingestion of contaminated food or water or oral contact with contaminated objects or hands.  This is why, you need good purified water for drinking, cooking and hygiene.

Medical history

Exposed individuals may experience either mild, severe, or even no symptoms at all.  In extreme cases, dysentery patients may pass over a liter of fluid an hour.  More often, individuals will complain of nausea, abdominal pain, and frequent watery and usually foul-smelling diarrhea accompanied by mucus and blood, rectal pain, and fever.  Vomiting, rapid weight loss, and generalized muscle aches sometimes also accompany dysentery.  This can result in death and the U.S. Military considered this to be a high mortality disease.

Physical exam

The mouth, skin, and lips may appear dry due to dehydration.  Lower abdominal tenderness may also be present.  Dysentery is diarrhea with blood and pus in the stool often accompanied by fever.


A Doctor who was a prisoner of war in Korea wrote about his experiences with the treatment of dysentery under primitive conditions.  He stated the following.

“What can you do about dysentery?  You will lose water which you must replace.  If possible, replace it with boiled water, but at any cost drink quantities of liquids.  You must also eat, even if it means choking the food down.

Charcoal can help.  Take any partially burned piece of wood, scrape off the charred portions and swallow them.  How much?  Oh, about a handful.

Bones – any kind of bones can help.  They are best if burned and ground into ash, but you can grind bones between rocks to a powder.  Just swallow the powder.

The Communists, anxious to educate every prisoner of war, usually have lots of chalk around for writing on the wonders of Bolshevism.  Steal some ordinary schoolroom chalk, powder it and swallow it.  It, too, will help cure dysentery.

Pull bark from trees, preferably oak trees, but any kind will do.  Boil it from twelve hours to three days.  As the water evaporates, add more.  The resulting brew will be so black, so vile tasting and so evil smelling, that it will choke you.  But boiled bark contains tannic acid and that will help to cure dysentery.  It can also help further the healing of burns .Boiled bark is so terrible to choke down that we were never really sure whether people willed their dysentery to quit rather than swallow the medicine.  We joked that the cure was worse than the disease – but it was a cure.

Tea was another dysentery cure because it, too, contains tannic acid.  Men who’d had chronic dysentery for two or three years were cured when we got enough tea.  Strong tea solutions which contain tannic acid in concentration have been used for centuries for burns.”

As you can see from the Doctors article, there are some primitive treatments that you can use if you have no other options.  One thing to remember is that the water that you leach the bitterness out of acorns with contains tannic acid.

A local doctor friend of mine told me to store powdered Gatorade; he said this would be better than water to help rehydrate someone is case of dysentery.  He said to give them a good antidiarrheal product like Imodium A-D and lots of liquid to replace the fluids and salts lost during diarrhea.

But the best solution to dysentery is to avoid getting it.  As many of you know, I have discussed water treatment and hygiene in past articles.  In the future, I plan to write more on this subject.  A bit of knowledge and good water purification devices can make the difference between life and death for you and your families.


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