Preventing Infections

Chemotherapies and other cancer treatments can compromise your immune system by affecting the blood cells that protect against disease. This may lead to an increased risk of infections and may put you at risk for getting sick more easily.  Don’t worry. There are many preventative steps that you can take to stay healthy.

Practice good hygiene such as:
  • Washing your hands well with soap and warm water especially before you cook or eat, after you use the bathroom, and after being in a public place.
  • Brush your teeth two to three times daily following meals to clean bacteria in your teeth and gums. Don’t forget to brush your tongue and floss too!
  • Wash your wounds thoroughly and cover with a band aid for protection.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and ears with dirty hands.
  • Keep yourself clean by showering each day.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid individuals who are actively sick with a virus, cold, or contagious disease.

Develop food safety habits such as:

  • Wash hands in warm soapy water before handling, preparing, and eating food
  • Consume only pasteurized juices and dairy products
  • Consume food that has not passed the expiration date
  • Store raw meat, fish, and chicken carefully in wrapped containers to avoid spillage of juice that con potentially contaminate other food
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or shellfish
  • Store foods at their proper temperature right after buying them to limit growth of germs.
  • Clean your utensils, countertops, cookware and sponges well (in a dishwasher if possible).

Get vaccinated:

  • According to the Centers of Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer patients are at an increased risk for complications from the flu and are advised to get the flu vaccination (the shot, not the nasal spray). The shot has inactivated viruses and is safer for cancer patients. Speak to your doctor about whether the annual flu shot is available and safe for you depending on your current treatment cycle. Also, talk to your doctor about the importance of having your family, friends, and those close to you vaccinated.  
  • Ask your doctor about also getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. The risk for getting pneumococcal disease increases significantly for those with immunocompromised conditions, such as cancer. This vaccine will help protect against certain types of pneumonia and meningitis. Ask whether this vaccine is safe for you at the stage of treatment you are in and if two shots of the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine are needed, as suggested by CDC.
  • Be sure to check with your health care team first before receiving any vaccines. 
  • Avoid using any vaccines with live viruses such as MMR, varciella, and the shingles vaccine.  
  • Discuss with your health care team about the timing of receiving vaccinations.  Vaccination during chemotherapy or radiation therapy may not be as effective.  CDC notes that those vaccinated within 14 days before starting immunosuppressive therapy such as those for cancer treatment should be considered unimmunized and should be revaccinated at least three months after therapy is stopped.

Talk to your doctor right away if you experience these signs of infection:

  • Fever of more than 100.4 Fahrenheit or 38.0 Celsius
  • Chills or sweats that accompanied or unaccompanied by a fever
  • Cough or shortness of breath that your team is unaware of
  • Redness, swelling, drainage, or warmth at a site of a wound or anywhere on the skin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Burning or pain when passing urine
  • Stiff neck

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