Top Menu

Here’s a not so pleasant subject, skin infections. Coming from a jiu-jitsu/wrestling background, nasty things like ringworm and Staph (Staphylococcus) were always on our radar. We went to great lengths to keep the mats at our gym clean and routinely preached the vital importance of good hygiene to our athletes as prevention. It seems to me that down here, the warm, moist air of the tropics combined with the almost endless number of things that can bite you (bite, scratch, cut, prick, etc.), provides an even greater chance of contracting some similar malady.

This particular topic was brought up on the beach yesterday afternoon at Roger’s (yes, we’re back at Hog Island), not all that pleasant, I’ll admit. The two subjects of that particular conversation unfortunately let whatever infection they had contracted spread without receiving proper care. Not a good thing! We had another friend acquire a Staph infection earlier this season and yet another pick up some mysterious jungle rot, both requiring antibiotics to heal.

The other day, when Rebecca and I climbed the mountains on Union Island, I ended up getting both my foot and hand pierced by one of the sharp plants on the hillside. We both also walked away with multiple scratches. Not wanting to have any of these cuts or punctures lead to an infection, we each took care to clean the wounds after we returned to our boat. It seems to me that cleanliness is the number one key to preventing infections from setting in and if symptoms such as redness or swelling are noticed, getting prompt care is important. As we’ve come to learn, left unchecked, some of these infections can become quite serious.

Socializing on the beach. Thankfully the vast majority of conversations where of subjects much more pleasant than the topic of this post.


  1. IODINE…old fashion preventive…brush on immediately….burns like hell…comes in small enough bottle to carry on excursions…but will prevent infection from entering wound and increase healing of broken tissue…highly recommend making iodine part of any traveller’s first aid kit!!!

    Keep it safe…Smiles…Doll (& Capt’n too)

    • Thanks. I looked for iodine in the grocery store’s med. section yesterday but couldn’t find it. I guess we’ll need to go to the pharmacy here.

  2. I’d get a staph infection almost every year at English Harbor. A cut or scratch on the the hand or foot and handling dingy painters along with a leaky dingy , my hands and feet were always touching the dirty inner harbor waters.

  3. Do you carry an advanced medical kit with antibiots, prescription meds, etc? Just to let you know, “Socializing on the beach” could lead to another type of infection!

    • Yes, we carry such a kit. I’m sure if you searched here you’d probably find that I wrote about it (I assume that I did anyway). As for the second comment, is that info gained through personal experience? 🙂

  4. Colloidal silver is awesome stuff to keep on hand. Notwithstanding all the anti-colloidal silver hype you can find on line (the ubiqutious Blue Man) it is actually a good product. And I second the iodine too.

  5. I use desinfectant spray or liquid (my father used vetyperoxid to foam all dirt away – painful).
    Then I use either powder or ointment which contains bacitracin+neomysin :

    I’ve heard coconut oil has antiseptic properties and is good for Your skin.

    My husband claims I have prepared enough stuff to put up a field hospital. But he was glad we had butterfly tape, when our middle one dropped his leatherman over his knee after being hit by a ball. Didn’t need stiches and got the wound edge to edge.

    I’ve been thinking it could be good to acquire some needles and anestethic for longer cruises. We have a “archipelago doctor” who can motor to You and help and if needed, send further.

    What kind of antibiotics/cortisone do You have, in case?

    • Thanks, Tytti. I’d have to dig out the med kit to find out exactly what we have on hand. My GP back home was very cool and wrote us prescriptions for all the items that he felt we should carry.

  6. It looks on Spot as though you are back in a similar position to last year. Maybe a little further off the beach and a little nearer the entrance, but very similar.

    Presumably your friends are nearby too.


  7. As regards your skin infections etc. There are lots of medical books written about the problems in that sort of climate. The situation is worse ashore than on a boat as it is less clean and the humidity is higher.

    The only publications we found to be any good were those written locally, by those who knew. Experts from USA and Europe were often wrong, and sometimes dangerous in their advice.

    A regular problem for everyone, male or female in really hot humid conditions (well south of you) was “dobhi’s itch”. that is a fungal infection in the groin akin to athletes foot. Many and varied are the useless cures. However Dactarin aerosol spray WORKS! Vets recommend it! Avoid the ointment or cream that doctors recommend, it makes it worse. The problem is so common that many people stop wearing underwear to avoid the area getting sweaty. You really wanted to know that didn’t you?! 🙂


  8. And here I thought the cure-all was Windex per the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”!

    Our home first aid kit includes a tube of Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream. It seems to have antibacterial qualities but what it does best is minimize scarring.

  9. There are microscopic swimming thingies that get inside your bathing suit and cause all kind of hellfire rashes. I recall reading threads about them over on the TTOL board but my Monday night brain is firing blanks on recalling what the critters are. They are seasonal I think with summer being the worst time for them.
    If Sandra M reads this then she will be able to fill in the blanks.

  10. Ah, infections in the tropics! A much occurring problem that is not always freely publicized by those so afflicted. It should also be known that the tropics have all sorts of interesting and strange critters and germs that we are simply not exposed to in the less tropical latitudes such as Canada and Europe. Tropical medicine is indeed a sub-specialty that can take a lifetime of learning to master for even the most accomplished GP / MD.

    If there is only to be one medical reference I would suggest be kept on board any cruising yacht for those of you so lucky to be cruising full time in the tropics, it would be the “Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine – 3rd edition” by Paul Auerbach et al, and published by Mosby Elsevier. This is an excellent resource that is a soft cover pocketbook and is well written in easy to read style with great illustrations. You can easily tuck it in a backpack yet is detailed enough to easily address a full range of medical emergencies you will encounter while out cruising with the utmost effectiveness It is a valuable resource for those having to fend on their own until expert help can be alerted or sought. I have no vested interest in the book, authors or the publisher, and simply wish to pass this on as a past cruiser and an MD.

    Never underestimate the tenacious nature of a simple wound infection that can soon overwhelm the body and produce alarming infection if not treated appropriately and early on. The best offense is a good defense – wash your hands regularly and often, especially after all those boat chores, cleaning bilges and gutting that last mahi mahi you just reeled in. Always wash your paws before handling and preparing food. Clean any wound early and effectively, no matter how simple it may appear. Salt water (not seawater) is still an easy to prepare simple antiseptic as long as wounds are thoroughly washed and cleansed. Don’t underestimate the seriousness of a coral cut or scratch. Cleanse well early on.

    If you acquire an affliction that you are not readily familiar with, never underestimate the power of your VHF radio and the resourcefulness of your fellow cruisers. There are those out there who may have encountered your “new problem” before, and at times you may be lucky enough to connect with a cruising medic out there.

    And finally, local knowledge is often a great resource as well – just be cautious of jungle remedies that are founded in myth and mystique as this could not just delay appropriate treatment but may in fact delay or complicate the actual treatment necessary.

    With that said, the actual risk of acquiring an overwhelming infection out there cruising remains quite low, with most infections and parasites being an irritating nuisance that should be treated. Chances are on most cruising yachts that the risks to health are accidents and incidents (avoidable accidents) more so than infections and tropical germs and parasites.

    All this from a past cruiser who carried more medical supplies than he knew what to do with ( I am an MD after all) – but yes, I was prepared to share my knowledge and skills with other cruising yachts while we were out there sailing in the “good Samaritan” manner.

    Apologies for a rather long winded posting but I hope it is useful to not just the two of you but others who follow you and are out sailing, or for those that plan to get out there.

    For now I will keep on plying my trade shore side as we diligently save for our next yacht and then get back out there full time with the rest of you as soon as we can 🙂

  11. Hey guys-
    Wow! I finally caught up to you in real time after starting at the beginning about 6 mos. ago. I’ve really been savoring the process of you two becoming true salts (or maybe I’m just a slow reader). It has been a very pleasurable process.

    Many years ago, in the South Pacific, I got a small coral cut on my ankle that I didn’t care for properly. A few days after getting the cut (more of a scratch really) it started looking a little red and puffy. I treated it with twice-daily scrubbings, using a brush and chlorine bleach. Besides being EXTREMELY painful, that did not work! It became badly infected and bored a hole down to the bone. Then my foot and lower leg turned red and swelled up so that I could no longer walk. I became feverish and took to my bunk. Luckily, some new crew arrived from the States and among the things they were bringing with them was antibiotics. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I’m here to say, TROPICAL INFECTIONS ARE NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY! I have the scars to prove it.

    • Wow, Tom. That doesn’t sound good. Similar to the story I heard on the beach the other day.

      Thanks for taking the time to read our entire (long) blog and for commenting!

  12. Any concerns/preventative steps with this “new” (not really new, but…) Chagas Disease everyone online seems to be talking about these days? Apparently it’s common in Central and South America, and sounds serious, though, it’s hard to tell with some of the online sensationalism how serious/common it really is.

    I could see where it would affect sailors more than most simply due to the exposure to more critters possibly getting in the cabin at night.

Comments are closed.