Feminine Infections


If left untreated, an infection will at best complicate a thru-hike, and at worst end it. We emphasize prevention but if you do develop an infection on-trail, make sure to leave the Trail as soon as possible and seek medical attention if necessary. However, infections can be prevented with proper hygiene and precautions. There are two main types of feminine infections to be concerned with:  vaginal infections and urinary tract infections.  


Vaginal Infections

Vaginal infections can occur due to an imbalance in bacterial flora, the introduction of harmful bacteria or viruses, or as a response to an allergen. Vaginal infections can be very uncomfortable and dangerous if left untreated.  More Details

 

Common Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending upon the type of infection, but if you have any of the following it may indicate a vaginal infection: itching, redness, swelling, pain during urination, discolored discharge, odor, and changes in discharge.  More Details

 

Types of Vaginal Infection

There are numerous types of vaginal infections, the most common of which are yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, Trichomonas vaginosis ("trich"), Chlamydia, gonorrhea, viral vaginitis, and allergies.

 

Of these, women are probably most familiar with yeast infections. A yeast infection happens when a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans flourishes beyond normal levels due to an imbalance in the vagina’s bacterial flora. Common Symptoms include white discharge, itching, and redness. Risk Factors  include antibiotic use, increased estrogen, uncontrolled diabetes, douching, an impaired immune system, and stress.

Treatment: Depending on the severity, treatment can include over the counter anti-fungal treatments like Monistat, Vagistat, Femstat 3, and Gyne-Lotrimin, as well as prescription oral medications, and therapy.


If you aren't already familiar, here is an article on over the counter yeast infection treatment basics. It seems that some women are more prone to yeast infections than others. If you think you may develop one, consider bringing a fast-acting (one to three-day) over the counter treatment, since you could easily be a week or more away from access to the pharmacy when one begins.


Urinary Tract Infections

urinary tract infection is an infection in any part of your urinary tract including your kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. Women have a greater risk of developing a UTIs than men and if infection does spread to your kidneys, it can be very dangerous. Once diagnosed, a UTI is typically treated with antibiotics, but as always prevention is key. Antibiotic regimes can last two weeks, during which time your thru-hike grinds to a halt.

 

Common Symptoms include the constant urge to urinate, burning sensation, many small urinations, cloudy urine, blood in urine (red, pink or cola colored urine), strong smelling urine, and pelvic pain. Risk Factors include being female, sexual activity, self contamination, certain types of birth control, and menopause.  

 

Because UTIs are bacterial, there is no over-the-counter treatment. If you develop a UTI you must get off-trail and see a doctor to receive prescription antibiotics. You can however take over the counter pain medication to mitigate any pain until you reach town. 

 

Prevention is the most important thing you can do. Drink lots of water, after digging a hole wipe correctly from front to back to prevent transmission of bacteria, urinate often, drink cranberry juice on zero days, and drink water and urinate after sexual activity. More details from the Mayo Clinic can be found here


Tips to Prevent Infection

Stay Hydrated & Pee Often

  • Don’t drink less because you're worried about peeing too often. Peeing can be a hassle for women in the backcountry, but it doesn't have to be. As we discuss on the Pee Standing Up page, a device like the pStyle makes it easy to pee without taking off your pack or needing to wipe.
  • Stop if you have to go. Don’t hold it! This can increase your risk of UTIs. The pStyle is so easy to use and you don’t even have to take off your pack!
  • Even if you hate getting out of the tent in the middle of the night to pee, you should still hydrate before bedtime. Consider carrying an empty drink bottle with a wide mouth and use it at night with the pStyle. It is surprisingly easy to do and great during unpleasant situations like bug swarms and bad weather. While hiking keep it on the outside of your pack.

Keep Your Underwear Clean

  • Wear comfortable, lightweight underwear and bring a few extras (i.e. more than a man would). Ideally you should always arrive in town with one clean pair.
  • Some women suggest washing underwear regularly on trail, but that can be difficult to do correctly with clean water. 
  • Some women suggest wearing panty liners each day to keep cleaner.
  • It is also important to keep your underwear dry. Cotton should be avoided since it dries so slowly. Underwear made from 100% synthetic materials like polyester insulate better and dry faster, but are less odor resistant. While merino wool underwear may dry slower than synthetics, they are more breathable, easier to clean, and more odor resistant.

Stay Dry and Clean

  • Clean daily with unscented, sensitive skin Wet Ones, feminine wipes, or baby wipes.
  • Make sure not to clean ‘inside’ your V with antibacterial or alcohol products as this can disrupt your natural bacterial balance and potentially lead to a yeast infection.
  • Take some time daily to let yourself air out.
  • If you don’t use a peeing device, wipe well with toilet paper or a pee rag.
  • Stay clean when digging a hole. Always wipe from front to back to prevent UTIs. Pack a little more toilet paper and wipes than you think you will need. A little more weight is better than infection.
  • Stay clean when on your period.
  • Trim up when in town.