In Ryan's recent podcast with Scott Williamson, Scott mentioned a serious infection he developed on the trail due to an ingrown toe.
Because of this, I want to pass on a very simple (and lightweight) method of fighting infection I learned from a doctor when I was a child, and which I suspect goes back to the days before routine dependence on antibiotics.
Immersion of the affected body part in very hot (clean) water can help reduce an infection and often bring it down entirely.
The method is simply to soak the body part (most commonly a hand or foot) in water as hot as you can stand. (Not so hot as to actually damage your skin, of course.) On a small infection, you can do this for half an hour twice a day. For more progressed infections, I’ve had success doing so for an hour or longer to bring the infection down. You can also add antibiotic soap to the water if you have it.
I’ve used this method as recently as January of this year while in Florida when a splinter in heel of my hand caused swelling with inflammation and pus in a single day. (Infections can hit fast in the sunshine state.) This method was also used back around the 1910s on my grandmother, who as a little girl had an infection that had spread up her arm.
That said, I’m a doctor of history, not of medicine. So, I don’t know things like how what the limits of this treatments effectiveness are relative to very serious infections. I don’t know anything about the physiology of why this works. Nor am I trying to imply this would have worked in Scott’s case. I simply don’t know. I’ve also never had need to do this while actually on the trail.
Rather, this is simply a very useful option that deserves to be common knowledge.
As it is, I suspect this simple, easy (although a bit painful), and effective treatment method is becoming more and more overlooked in our era of antibiotics. For example, while my parent’s doctor also recommends the value of soaking, when I’ve asked friends of mine who are medical students, none of them have heard of it. (In fact, they are often skeptical.) So, to check up the accuracy of this, you may need to consult an older physician.