Survival Medicine Hour: Pathogens, Sulfa Drugs, Plague, More

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Survival Medicine Hour: Pathogens, Sulfa Drugs, Plague, More



Infected lymph glands, called Buboes, of Bubonic Plague

An infection is defined as the invasion of the body by microscopic organisms. A pathogen is any agent that can cause a disease, but the term is usually used to describe a microbe. Microscopic germs cause injury to tissues in a number of ways, often by producing toxic substances that damage the cells. Joe Alton MD discusses the different types of microbes that can affect your chances of survival if modern medicine isn’t an option.

A boy in Idaho is recovering after contracting plague — the first human case in the state in more than two decades. The Plague? Where did that come from? Dr. Joe Alton discusses the modern history of Plague in the U.S., plus how to identify and treat it early and completely.

some of the first antibiotics were discovered from molds

some of the first antibiotics were discovered from molds

You might think that Penicillin family drugs were the first to be used by the general public, but another popular family of antibiotics called sulfonamides, or sulfa drugs, were actually on the market even earlier. Indeed, it has been called “the first miracle drug”. Sulfonamides deserve credit for saving tens of thousands of lives during World War Two. It was so widely used, that many soldiers’ first aid kits came with the drug in pill or powder form. Learn more about this drug and how it fits in with your medical supplies for times of trouble.

Sulfa Drugs in aquatic equivalents

All this and much more in this episode of the Survival Medicine Hour with Joe and Amy Alton!

To listen in, click below:

Wishing you the best of health in good times or bad,

Joe and Amy Alton

The Altons

The Altons

Follow them on twitter at preppershow, YouTube at DrBones NurseAmy Channel, and join their survival medicine Facebook group at survival medicine drbones nurseamy! Plus, check out Nurse Amy’s entire line of medical kits and supplies at!


What Are Pathogens?

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What Are Pathogens?


An infection is defined as the invasion of the body by microscopic organisms. A pathogen is any agent that can cause a disease, but the term is usually used to describe a microbe. Microscopic germs cause injury to tissues in a number of ways, often by producing toxic substances that damage the cells.

Before we give every micro-organism a bad name, it’s important to know that they are not all pathogenic. In fact, some are beneficial or even necessary for human life, such as many intestinal bacteria.

Pathogens are often carried by “vectors”, from the Latin word vectus, “one who carries”. These are humans, animals, or microbes that carry and transmit a pathogen to others. A vector does not have to be ill to carry a disease: A mosquito, for example, carries the organism that causes malaria in humans but doesn’t experience the disease.

Another example of a disease vector was a domestic servant known as “Typhoid Mary”. She carried Typhoid fever to many people at homes where she worked without feeling sick herself. The elimination of a vector from the environment (terminating Mary’s employment, for example) usually ends the outbreak of disease.


There are a number of different pathogens that cause infectious disease. Perhaps the one we hear most about is bacteria.  By the way, the word bacteria is the plural form. A single one is called a bacterium.

Bacteria were among the first life forms on Earth and are present everywhere from the soil to the bottom of the ocean to the inside of your body. They may even exist on Mars. If you took the entire population of bacteria on the planet, they would probably have a mass about equal to the entire plant and animal population combined. 

Bacteria have a number of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods to spirals. When bacteria reach a certain size, they reproduce by splitting in two, a process called binary fission.

Many bacteria are good guys. Some, however, are pathogens and cause infectious diseases, including cholera, syphilis, anthrax, leprosy, and bubonic plague. The most common fatal bacterial diseases affect the lungs, with tuberculosis alone killing about 2 million people a year, mostly in underdeveloped countries.

There are many different types of bacteria. Most bacteria don’t need to enter the host’s cells to reproduce, they do just fine in, for example, your blood. A subgroup of bacteria called Rickettsia, however, does depend on entry, growth, and reproduction within a host cell.

Rickettsiae are the cause of typhus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and a number of other infectious diseases. Rickettsia do not, however, cause rickets, a deformity of long bones in young children which is a result of vitamin D deficiency.

Although many bacteria have become resistant, they can usually be killed with antibiotics. Different bacteria are sensitive to different antibiotics.


Viruses are microscopic pathogens that, unlike most bacteria, can reproduce only inside the living cells of other organisms. Viral particles without a host are known as “virions”, and only act as a living organism when they enter a host cell. Indeed, they stretch the definition of life itself. Viruses can infect all types of hosts, from animals and plants all the way down to bacteria.

Examples of common human diseases caused by viruses include the common cold, influenza, chickenpox, rabies, hepatitis, herpes, Ebola, and Zika.

Viruses can be spread by:

•            Mosquitoes and other vectors

•            Airborne droplets in coughs or sneezes

•            Contact with blood or other bodily fluids

•            Ingestion of contaminated food or water

A normal immune system can often kill the infecting virus. However, some viruses evade these immune responses and result in chronic infections, such as HIV or Hepatitis C. There are antiviral drugs, but it’s important to know that antibiotics have no effect.


Protozoa are one-celled microbes, a step up on the scale as they exhibit animal-like behavior, such as the ability to move. Many have a tail-like appendage called a flagella that they whip around for locomotion. They are restricted to moist or aquatic environments. Therefore, transmission is mostly by drinking contaminated water, although some are transmitted by animal vectors.

Protozoa cause infectious diseases in humans such as malaria, giardia, some dysenteries, sleeping sickness, and amoebiasis. A common vaginal infection is caused by a protozoan called trichomonas.

Protozoa are usually susceptible to treatment with certain antibiotics, such as metronidazole (also known as Fish-Zole in its veterinary equivalent).


A fungus (plural form: fungi) is a microorganism family that consists of such yeasts and molds. Fungal infections most commonly affect skin and mucous membranes like the oral cavity and vagina, but can invade other areas. Fungus affecting the toes is known as tinea pedis, or “athlete’s foot”. “Ringworm” is another type of fungal infection. Severe internal fungal infections can occur in individuals with weakened immune systems. Anti-fungal medications exist in topical or oral form, like miconazole or clotrimazole.

These are just some of the hazards that you’ll face if you take responsibility for the medical well-being of others in times of trouble. Learn about them, get some training and skills, and you’ll keep it together, even if everything else falls apart.

Joe Alton MD

Aerobic Compost Tea, Worm Tea, and Leachate—A Clarification

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In the course of preparing for our Texas Master Gardener Worm Bin Workshop, I came across a lot of inconsistent information. Among the most confusing issues was that many sources both online and in print seem to confuse the terms referring to leachate and worm tea. The same sources also seem to blow it again when talking about worm tea versus aerobic compost tea. It’s easy to find yourself hopelessly confused!

In this article, I hope to demystify the subject a bit and provide clarity on a confusing topic.


Myh Worm bin


Let’s start with leachate, the liquid that comes off the worm bin.

What is Leachate?

One of the most contentious issues in worm composting is what to do with the leachate. The most common definition of leachate is any liquid that, in the course of passing through matter, extracts soluble or suspended solids, or any other component of the material through which it has passed.

Leachate is a widely used term in the environmental sciences industries, where it has the specific negative meaning of a liquid that has dissolved environmentally harmful substances that may come to enter the environment. But for the purposes of this article, we are defining leachate as the raw liquid runoff (or seepage) that settles in or below the vermicompost or worm castings in a worm bin.

The controversy stems, in large part, from the debate over aerated compost tea versus non-aerated compost tea. Fans of aerated compost tea do not like the fact that worm bin leachate is anaerobic, which they believe encourages the growth of microorganisms unfavorable to plants. They like to point out that worm bin leachate is not aerated compost tea.

This is completely true, but I am not so convinced that this is a big problem. Those critical of using this “worm juice” do make valid points, and I, too, recommend using leachate with care, but I did find two peer-reviewed studies showing the benefits of unaerated worm compost leachate: “Vermicomposting Leachate (Worm Tea) as Liquid Fertilizer for Maize” and “Vermicompost Leachate Alleviates Deficiency of Phosphorus and Potassium in Tomato Seedlings.” I also found several Extension Service publications that tout the use of worm bin leachate.

It is not at all unusual for folks to be a little hazy on what to do with their “worm juice.” One lady I spoke with the other day said, “We just changed our bins to add a drainage system. I just pulled the cork out and got nearly two cups of worm juice. My husband is trying to convince me that I should go ahead and feed it to my house plants, but I’m worried that adding this cocktail to my basically inert potting soil might stir up problems. Is it safe to use this stuff as a fertilizer?”

Another person said, “I get this dark liquid from my worm bins. I’m thinking most of the juice came from the castings and might have some great stuff in it, and not a lot of rotten stuff, and that’s why I kind of want to give it to the plants. Is that a bad idea? I just want to know what the heck to do with it. It’s winter here, so I can’t put it on my garden beds outside. I really don’t want to waste it, though! What do people do with it? Do you put it on your house plants, and have you gotten a good reaction from it?”

These are excellent questions. I’ve talked and written about this topic a number of times, but it’s definitely one that continues to confuse people and deserves to be revisited from time to time.

Unfortunately, there seems to be misleading information provided by some worm bin manufacturers (and website owners). The terms “worm tea,” “worm compost tea,” “castings tea,” or “vermicompost tea” should actually refer to the liquid fertilizer created by steeping (soaking) quality castings/compost in water (often aerated) for a period of time.

The problem is that many people refer to the liquid that drains out from a worm bin as “worm tea.” This is incorrect. The proper term for this is actually “leachate.”

Obviously, we’re only talking about semantics here, so it may seem that I’m splitting hairs, but keeping the distinction between these terms is actually quite important.

While leachate can certainly have value as a liquid fertilizer (especially when drained from a mature worm bin and diluted), it should be treated with a lot more caution than good-quality worm tea.

As water passes down through a worm bin, it can pick up all sorts of unstable metabolites (various products/intermediates of the decomposition process). If, for example, you have some fairly anaerobic zones in your worm bin, you can end up with various phytotoxins (toxins that can harm plants and humans). Some of these toxins are created by bacteria.

Every worm bin has good and bad microbes. This is perfectly fine and is even expected—provided, of course, that the good ones outnumber the bad ones.

Some leachate can contain harmful pathogens because it has not been processed through the worms’ intestinal tracts. It is often recommended that it should not be used on garden plants you plan to serve to your friends and family.

During decomposition, waste releases liquid from its cell structures as it breaks down. This leachate seeps down through the worm composter into the collection area. The leachate should be drained regularly, and if you are getting more than 2-4 ounces of liquid in a week, the worm composter is probably too wet!

If your composter has a spigot attached, I would recommend leaving the spigot open with a container underneath to catch the leachate. This will prevent it from building up in your system. Just keep an eye on it to make sure your container doesn’t overflow!

If, like me, you have a homemade worm bin, you can keep a drip pan underneath to catch the leachate.


worm castings


Finished composts are much better to use for brewing worm tea because they are much more uniform in composition, and the vast majority (if not all) the potentially harmful compounds have been converted into something more stabilized.

The microbial community present in these materials tends to be more beneficial, as well.

I’m not trying to scare you here, and I am not implying that leachate is “poison” and should never be used. I’m simply saying that while leachate can have value as a liquid fertilizer, it should be treated with caution. For every story extolling the benefits of using leachate, there is one lamenting problems from having used it.

If you decide you want to use leachate, I recommend taking some extra steps:

1. Do not use it if it smells bad! It should smell like earth (and not gross) when it comes out of the worm composter. If it smells bad, pour it out on an area like a roadway or driveway where it cannot harm living plants or animals.
2. Dilute it at a ratio of 10 parts water to 1 part leachate (10:1).
3. Aerate it with an air pump if available.
4. Use it outdoors on shrubs, ornamentals, or flowering plants only. Do not use on plants you intend to eat.

What Is Worm Tea?

Now let’s move on to the next confusing liquid: worm tea. Worm tea is about what it sounds like—worm castings steeped in water for a certain amount of time.

“Fresh earthworm castings contain more organic material—nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium—than soil itself,” according to Texas Agrilife Extension Service. Worm castings and the tea you make from them also ward off root-knot nematodes—a parasitic creature that causes deformed roots and drains nutrients out of plants. Plants like strawberries that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew.


Worm tea


Making simple worm tea is really nothing more than steeping—much like making any other tea you would drink yourself. It is very easy, and it is good for your plants, too.

In the process of steeping, water is added to the earthworm castings to simply extract the microbes from the castings into the water. The resulting liquid solution is then applied to plants or soil in various ways.

Many bottled teas you see on the shelf use this method.

To make your own, just take a bunch of worm castings and put them in the bottom third of a bucket. Fill the rest of the bucket with rainwater or non-chlorinated water (or tap water left out in the sunlight for 24 hours if you must). Let the mixture steep for 24 hours. Strain out the solids, dilute with water at a 1:1 ratio, and apply directly to your plants or soil.

What is Aerobic Compost Tea?


aerobic worm tea


Aerobic compost tea is also known as aerobic worm tea, and it is known mostly for its ability to boost microbiological activity in soil by adding beneficial bacteria, fungi, acinomycetes, and protozoa to the soil. It is brewed either by soaking a porous bag full of worm castings in water or by simply dumping the castings into a container of clean, chemical-free water. Molasses, corn syrup, or another microbial food source is then added to the water as a catalyst to stimulate growth of the microbes. And finally, an air-pumping system is installed to create an aerobic (or oxygenated) environment for the multiplying microorganisms.

Aerobic compost tea is beneficial in many ways. The microbes delivered in aerobic compost tea help plants by out-competing anaerobic and other pathogenic organisms within the soil. These beneficial microorganisms can also move in to occupy infected sites on plants’ root and leaf surfaces. Brewing aerobic compost tea speeds up the growth rate of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, and multiplies their numbers exponentially. As a result, this method populates your garden with beneficial microbes more rapidly than applying worm castings alone.

When you spray or pour the tea on the soil, you are not only feeding the plant, but also increasing the number of beneficial microbes in the soil, thus crowding out the bad ones. It has been proven that the tea, along with the castings, can significantly increase plant growth, as well as crop yields, in the short term (a season) and especially in the long term over a period of several seasons.

Along with these great benefits come a boost in the plant’s own immune system, enabling it to resist parasites like the infamous aphid, tomato cyst eelworms, and root-knot nematodes. Plants produce certain hormones that insects find distasteful, so they are repelled. Aerobic compost tea also helps a plant to resist diseases such as Pythium and Rhizoctonia.

When either worm tea or the more effective aerobic compost tea is sprayed on leaves and foliage, detrimental and disease-causing microbes are again outnumbered and cannot grow their numbers to dominate any single plant. The teas also aid the plant in creating the “cuticle,” a waxy layer on top of the epidermis, or plant skin. This waxy surface protects the leaves from severe elements and reduces attacks by certain harmful microorganisms and insects.

Making Your Own Compost Tea

Making any type of organic compost tea involves a few key steps:

  1. Choosing the right compost
  2. Choosing the right nutrients
  3. Brewing and applying the tea correctly

Please note that the instructions below are only meant to give you some background about tea making, not a step-by-step guide on how to make the teas. We provide information on that elsewhere on the site, such as in this article by David the Good:

Read More: “Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Compost”

The compost used in making tea is like the starter you use in making yogurt. The compost inoculates the tea with organisms. Thus, you want the compost you begin with to have a good diversity of beneficial organisms. Worm castings are super for this purpose!

Keep in mind that different plants differ in their soil preferences. Some need a bacteria-dominated soil, others want a fungi-dominated soil, and still others like a soil that’s somewhere in between.

When making an organic compost with more fungi, mix in larger amounts of cardboard, paper, sawdust, wood shavings, and heavy stalk plant material as you prepare the compost. For bacterial dominance, use food waste and green plant waste. Whatever compost you use, be sure it is finished, well-stabilized compost, and that it’s fairly fresh. Again, worm castings are ideal for this.

As I mentioned above, I really like to use rainwater whenever I can, but you can always use dechlorinated water. One old-timer I talked to said he only ever uses pond water to make his compost teas. I have seen his garden, and I can tell you it looks to me like using pond water is a good way to go!

The nutrients you introduce while brewing also influence the finished tea.

To encourage the development of fungi in the tea, you can mix two parts humic acid; two parts yucca, saponin, or aloe vera; and one part fish hydrolyzate or other proteins into the water.

For bacterial dominance, you can feed one liquid ounce blackstrap molasses per gallon of tea and and an equal amount of cold-water kelp. For the molasses, you can also substitute brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup if you like.


Raised bed results


Go to the library or search online for information on leachate, worm tea, and aerobic compost tea and you will find many sources of conflicting information, mainly over the terminology involved in determining what is actually leachate and what is a worm tea (be it aerobic or simple tea). The main thing to remember is that while any form of worm tea may not sound too appetizing to you and me, our plants will really love it.

Worm tea lets you fertilize without adding bulk to your soil, and water your garden with something really healthy for your plants. Trust me here, your garden will practically jump up and shout “Hallelujah!” when fertilized with either worm tea or aerobic compost tea, and you will be amazed at the growth, flowering, and fruiting that results.

Spray your plants liberally on the leaves, stems, and surrounding soil. Use teas on clay soil to begin its transformation to humus. Use them on your flowers indoors and out, and on your other house plants to feed and nourish both the plants and the soil.

Read More: “Fertilizing Container Gardens: A Beginner’s Guide”

Use teas on your compost pile to introduce the microbial activity and hasten the compost pile’s beneficial breaking-down process. Inoculate the ground surrounding your fruit trees. Use them on manure piles that stink and marvel at how fast the stink and flies go away! A properly brewed worm tea is child, pet, and wildlife friendly.

A few things to keep in mind:

Foliar Spray/Wash: It’s best to spray all surfaces of your plants in the early morning or late afternoon when the suns angle is low and less intense. When possible, do your foliar spraying on clear days, since rain may wash away some of the microbial activity.
Soil Inoculant/Drenching: Always apply teas out of direct, intense sunlight. Use them pure or dilute them (10:1 is a suggested maximum dilution rate). Dilution ratios vary for different application techniques and equipment. An ideal time to apply is during periods of mist or fog, but not heavy rain. Alternately, irrigate a little before your application to ensure the microbes will survive and can travel more quickly and safely to their new job locations. Always use nonchlorinated water.
Smell: If a tea stinks, do not use it on your vegetables, as it is demonstrating anaerobic properties and may contain pathogens. Some suggest you use this stinky mix on an undesirable weed bed!

In Summary

Leachate–The correct word for the dark liquid that comes out of the bottom of your worm bin. If your bin is maintained correctly, you should have very little leachate and what you do have can be used safely (in 1:10 diluted form) on your ornamental plants. Sometimes leachate is incorrectly referred to as “worm tea.” Some sites refer to it as “worm wee,” but even that is technically incorrect.

Simple Worm Tea–A mix of worm castings and water. Useful if you don’t have an air pump but still want some liquid fertilizer from your worm bin.

Aerobic Compost Tea–An aerated mixture of worm castings, nonchlorinated water, and molasses or another microbial food source. It contains an active culture of microorganisms and should be used immediately, otherwise the benefit of aeration is all but lost.

I really hope that this article helps clear things up. I know that many of you may not agree with the terminology I have used in this article, but I think that using the above will help to demystify an area of gardening that can be of great benefit to all of us!

(This article was originally published October 2, 2015.)


The post Aerobic Compost Tea, Worm Tea, and Leachate—A Clarification appeared first on The Grow Network.

Video On Pathogens, The Germs That Cause Disease

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Video: Germs That Cause Illness

In this video, Joe Alton, MD, aka Dr. Bones, goes back to the basics to discuss the various types of pathogens (germs that cause disease). Dr. Alton tells you about bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi: their characteristics, differences, and some well-known issues for which each is responsible.

To watch, click below:

Wishing you the best of health in good times or bad,


Joe and Amy Alton

Joe Alton MD and Amy Alton, ARNP

Learn more about pathogens and 150 other medical topics in troubled times with a copy of the 700 page Third Edition of The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way. And don’t forget to check out Nurse Amy’s entire line of medical kits at You’ll be glad you did.

How To Grow Shiitake Mushrooms On The Homestead In Only 7 Days

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How To Grow Shiitake Mushrooms On The Homestead In Only 7 Days

Image source: Wikipedia


Shiitake mushrooms are a wonderful addition to the homestead, serving as a valuable source of proteins and minerals — yet their nutritional value goes unnoticed by most. Just one average size shiitake mushroom has almost half a gram of protein! (The dietary recommendation is 0.8 grams/kg of weight.)

Shiitake mushrooms provide considerable health benefits to any food plan with a minimal amount of work to grow them, and can be grown in as little as seven days. A small space serves just as well as a large space, but the right conditions are essential in terms of temperature, light and humidity. For a more natural process, hardwood logs are the best option. For a faster and higher production process, use synthetic logs.

Hardwood logs can be found at a local resource such as a tree trimming service or logger. For those fortunate enough to have a chunk of land with woods, just use hardwood from home. It’s best to cut logs in early spring before the trees bud. They may be cut in the winter and stored until spring to inoculate. Oak is the premium choice of wood for growing shiitake mushrooms.  Following is a list of woods that can be used, listed from best to worst:

  • Oak
  • Sugar
  • Iron Wood
  • American Hornbeam
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Hickory
  • Red Maple

Once the logs are cut, be careful to keep the bark as undamaged as possible. They should be 3-4 feet long and 4-6 inches in diameter. Consider making the thicker logs shorter because they will be heavier. Logs will need to be soaked periodically, so the length of the logs may be dependent on what you will soak them in.

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There are many perspectives on when to inoculate the mushroom logs after cutting. Trees do have a chemical in them to fight fungus from growing on them that can last about a week after cutting. This is why some growers will wait a week or two before inoculating the logs. Waiting any longer will allow competing fungus to grow on the logs.

How To Grow Shiitake Mushrooms On The Homestead In Only 7 Days

Image source:

There are three strains of shiitake mushrooms: wide range (WR), warm weather (WW) and cold weather (CW). The spawn producer (local or online) can help you choose the best strain for your area. Upon making a decision, a method of application must be chosen: spawn or plugs. Spawn is the more complicated option, whereas with plugs, simply drill a hole and hammer in the plugs. This is another important decision to discuss with your spawn dealer.

Once the logs are inoculated, they will need to be incubated. Incubation entails keeping the right moisture content and temperature so that your shiitake spawn will fully inoculate the hardwood log. It can take six months to a year for your first crop of mushrooms to show up. This has a lot to do with the wood, mushroom strain and environment.

A tree-shaded lot is ideal for growing mushrooms on logs. If you have enough light to read the paper, it’s about perfect for mushroom. Shade cloth (70 percent shade) can also be used and purchased from grower supply houses and online. This will cut down the wind and light.

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Synthetic shiitake logs may be purchased or even made. For a rapid harvest, choose inoculated synthetic shiitake logs. In this route, there are other considerations and expenses. A grow room is needed to produce mushrooms on synthetic logs because of the high risk of mold. Even the cleanest grow rooms have to deal with molds and even use chemicals to combat the mold.

For the synthetic log route, plan on building a grow room. When looking for a synthetic log producer, choose one that will provide plans on building a grow room. These plans are often free and will provide instructions on the setup and the required materials. The main concern is air flow. Air flow will control the moisture and be the single most important detail to help control mold.

Expect mushrooms from synthetic shiitake mushroom logs in a week to 14 days. They produce two to three times before they can be turned into compost.

Natural shiitake hardwood logs last about three years and provide several harvests over that time. Synthetic logs will produce much faster but will be spent in about one to two months. Regardless of the direction you choose to go, mushrooms are proven to be an invaluable food source: mushrooms don’t make noise, smell or need fertilizing!

Have you ever grown shiitakes or any other type of mushroom? Share your tips in the section below:

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