Preparing for Nuclear War – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, …. Aid

Note this is work in progress.
If you rely on this to deal with a nuclear war and die, don’t blame me.

After a nuclear war, we should expect to have to deal with any and all medical emergencies ourselves, whether caused by the emergency or not. That much is clear.

However, I am struggling to work out what that means in terms of preparation. Most medical advice is what is loosely termed “first aid” which assumes a patient will relatively rapidly be taken under the care of a medic. That will not happen after a nuclear war. There is a very different & more complex kind of response needed for us

My research suggests that the most likely treatable medical issues are going to be:

  • Burns, 1st (sunburn), 2nd (normal) & 3rd (deep) and over extensive areas of the body.
  • Trauma, particulary to the head and upper body
  • Illnesses caused by insanitary living, poor quality food, inactivity, cold, damp, etc.

The one obvious thing missing is radiation sickness. The reason I’m not listing it, is that I have been unable to find any way to treat it, except the normal treatment that would be given to someone who is “ill”.

Let’s look at these major medical issues one by one to see how they might be treated.


Burns will come from the flash, there may also be fires.

The general first aid for burns is to cool with clean running water. There is no reason I know why the same is not true for the flash burns.

There are bandages and applications intended for burns. There is no reason why these would not work just as well on the flash burns as they do for normal burns (I’ve carefully avoiding saying they work!)

The general longer-term treatment for burns seems to be the same for any open wound: to keep it clean, bandaged and avoid infection. So the medical equipment is that for treating open wounds.


The injuries from Trauma will mostly come from the blast wave. This picks up material and flings it at great speed and causes buildings to collapse. This is not that different from the injuries causes by military explosions or collisions. So, except for the fact that there will be no gunshot wounds a standard military kit and treatment should suffice. This is also the kind of injury during a road traffic accident. So, medical kits for cars, will address the same kinds of problems.

However, treating those injured by trauma through a nuclear war is a whole different kettle of fish to military first aid. Military treatment is focussed on preserving life on the front line long enough to evacuate to trained medical facilities. After a nuclear explosion, anyone injured by trauma will have to be treated by those around them. That is not what a military first aid kit is designed to do.

The general treatment of open wounds (above) would apply. But there are many extremely complex complications. It’s not clear how these should be treated.

Illnesses caused by insanitary living, etc.

The third category is the kinds of conditions that occur in refugee camps. The best treatment is prevention.

Water, sanitation and Anti-biotics

The single biggest factors for the excellent health of modern people is the availability of clean water, sanitation and anti-biotics for the treatment of infections. After a nuclear conflict, clean water will be difficult, sanitation will be very difficult and the general public are denied life saving anti-biotics. It is more or less guaranteed that many people will become seriously ill and die from easily preventable and treatable infections.

General medicine

On top of the above specific conditions, normal medical conditions will occur. Normal household medicines will be useful, but in addition, there will be conditions arising where we would normally seek medical help, but there will be none.

At this stage, I don’t know enough to add much more. It’s an area I need to work on.

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