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Survivor Health Tips

Participants in the TV show Survivor have had to face several health issues, both mental and physical. Health contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the American Red Cross, tells us that there are some lessons all of us can learn about surviving out in the elements.

Background information on the show

In both Survivor series, the participants received multiple vitamins and each team was provided with a basic first-aid kit. In the first Survivor, we saw Colleen Haskell's legs become scab ridden and scarred from scratching bug bites. After the competition, she learned that she had developed scurvy. It turned out that she was the only one who didn't take the vitamins they were given. Scurvy, which is also known as "the sailor's disease," is caused by a deficiency in vitamin C. Eating fruits and fresh vegetables can prevent it.

In Survivor: The Australian Outback, Michael Skupin of the Kucha tribe was seriously injured when he tried to restart a fire to cook some fish. He accidentally inhaled smoke when the wind changed direction and passed out into the fire after blowing on the coals to fan the flames. Although he fell into the fire face first, a big hat and sunglasses that he was wearing saved his face. In his appearance on our show, he said, "I was laying in the fire for about 10 seconds face first, and that brim of the hat folded over and protected my face." He said that he didn't normally wear a hat, but it was so hot that he decided to wear it.

When Skupin regained consciousness after falling into the fire, he pushed himself out of the flames and inadvertently put his hands and wrists directly into the burning coals. Then he ran into the cold river water to relieve the pain in his hands. We saw the flesh hanging from them. He was evacuated and taken to the number 1 burn unit in Australia, where he was diagnosed with second-degree burns. When he appeared on our show, his hands were completely healed. He said that he had been scheduled to undergo three skin-grafting operations but that somehow his hands miraculously healed on their own. He credits it to divine intervention.

One of the basic rules for making a fire outdoors is to never stand over it when building it. I have been told that this is a common problem.

Survivor: The Australian Outback was taped from mid-October through early December in the middle of a cattle ranch in Australia's northeastern Queensland state. The nearest town is 80 miles away. The producers of the show intentionally taped the show during the time of the year when there was very little fruit and vegetation to eat because they had all ripened and died. The audience has seen pictures of fruit with bugs in it.

At least seven varieties of the world's ten most poisonous and deadliest snakes are in the area and there are a lot of spiders. The spiders in this area aren't deadly to humans, but they can cause vomiting and fevr. The Herbert River, which flows through the area, has fish and other life suitable to eat. Bu, watch out for the crocodiles on the riverbank. The temperatures range from 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the afternoon to around 50 degrees at night. The area also tends to get heavy rain. So far, we haven't seen any of the contestants fall victims to a snake or spider bite. A medical team is nearby if anyone else, like Michael Skupin, gets in serious trouble.

This is a game of survival. How prepared are they?

This is a game, a long tough one (42 days). But it's important to know that the participants are not put to any unreasonable risks. For example, they were given sun block and multiple vitamins and a basic first-aid kit. There was also a medical team nearby, as we saw when there was a real problem.

Even though it's a game, what can it teach us about survival?

There are a lot of things that we can learn, although it's unlikely that e would ever find ourselves having to survive in such harsh conditions. One of the first lessons that we can take away from the show is how important it is to protect ourselves from the sun.

They were given sun block, but was that enough?

No sunscreen is ever enough. More than 1 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year, and of them, 50,000 of them will have melanoma.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that in addition to applying a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 every 2 hours that we stay out of the sun if possible when it's the most intense--between 10 AM and 4 PM. That wasn't much of an option for the outback survivors unless they were able to find a shady tree or shelter. Some of them have been wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, which are also recommended by the academy. All the sunbathing that we've seen going on by the river isn't a good idea. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. By the way, T-shirts can't protect you much from getting sunburn. They have a sun protection factor of only 4 to 6.

We all remember how Michael reacted after he got burned trying to start a fire. How should a burn be taken care of in an outdoor situation like that? Was running into the water the right thing to do?

Yes, running in the water was the best thing to do. It was cool and the quickest way to find some relief, although, it didn't seem to help him very much. He was clearly in a lot of pain. One of his teammates [Rodger] recommended that he stay in the shallow part of the water in case he passed out. That was good thinking.

In general, if you are camping outdoors and you get a burn, the best thing to do is to get medical attention as soon as possible. Fortunately, there was medical a team nearby to evacuate Michael.

In addition to cooling the burned area in water for about 10 to 15 minutes, use an antiseptic cream or spray and cover the ara with a clean bandage to prevent infection.

The Australian outback has at least seven of the ten most poisonous and deadly snakes in the world. What's the most important thing to do when bitten by a snake?

First of all, snakes don't usually attack unless they feel threatened. Prior to this Survivor series, the participants were given a lesson in how to look out for and avoid stepping on snakes when out walking. It's important to wear a sturdy pair of shoes and socks, particularly in areas with a lot of underbrush where it's hard to see the ground. Snakebites are usually treatable after you get medical help. Try to remember what the snake looked like if you are bitten. It's important to get an antidote right away. Make sure that you get medical attention.

What precautions should they take against those crocodiles?

It may seem far-fetched that we may run into a crocodile, but I just saw a few last week when I was in Florida. The important thing is to stay away from them.

There are two types of crocodiles in northern Australia, where the survivors are. The saltwater crocodile, which is a man-eater, and the freshwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile can be found in salty and freshwater. They have a wider snout than the freshwater crocodiles and can grow to over 20 feet. The crocodiles that we have primarily been seeing in Survivor: The Australian Outback have been freshwater crocodiles. They are not as much of a threat, but they can inflict a serious wound. It's important for the survivors to camp at least 100 feet away from water that has crocodiles and not to give them any food by discarding food in the water.

Every week, the remaining survivors seem to be getting thinner and thinner. How much food do we really need to survive? What do you think of their diet?

Well, the chickens that the Kucha tribe won and the pig that Michael got were the protein that they neded to stay competitive. The other team (Ogakor) was at a very distinct disadvantage for a while because of their low food supply. As long as they get water and take vitamin pills, those who are unlucky and only have rice and an occasional fish to eat can survive just fine.

How important do you consider the psychological aspects of this game as a survival skill?

It's very important. You might say that Survivor is more of a mental than a physical game. There is no question that you have to be sturdy psychologically as a survivor weather it's in the outback, on a deserted island, or in real life. After they get kicked out, they have to deal with feelings of rejection and isolation and also the feeling that it may have been unfair for them to get kicked off. The political intrigue is part of the game. We are seeing primitive emotions that don't come out in a controlled, polite society.

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