A low white blood cell count puts you at risk for infection and infection is one of the most serious side effects of cancer treatment. When you are Patient Active, prevention of infection is one of your highest priorities. Infection can lead to hospitalization, and may even be life-threatening.
How does Infection Occur?
There are several different types of white blood cells in your body, but neutrophils are the white blood cells responsible for fighting infections caused by bacteria. Neutropenia is a decrease in the number of neutrophils. Your risk of infection increases significantly when you are neutropenic. If you develop an infection, you will be treated with antibiotics. In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary.
Tips to Prevent Infection
The most effective way to avoid infection is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Take time, at least 15 seconds, to scrub your hands well with soap and warm water. Wash your hands before cooking and eating and after using the bathroom, sneezing, or coughing. Carry hand sanitizer with you when you are not at home.
Other ways include:
How Can You Recognize the Symptoms of Infection?
- Avoid people who are sick or who have just received a vaccine for chicken pox or polio.
- Stay out of crowds.
- Keep your skin clean and moisturized.
- Gently but thoroughly brush your teeth after meals.
- Avoid cuts. If you do cut yourself, clean the cut well and apply an antiseptic.
- Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating.
- Avoid raw meat, chicken, eggs and seafood.
- Ask your doctor if you need medication to increase your white blood cells.
Take your temperature daily. Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have a fever of 100.5° F (38° C) or higher. Fever is often one of the first symptoms of infection. Fever that occurs when you are neutropenic or your neutrophil count is low is considered an emergency and requires prompt medical attention.
Call your doctor or nurse if you experience:
- Chills, shaking, sweating
- Redness, swelling, rash or skin that is warm to touch, especially around a wound or catheter site
- Cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, chest pain
- Mouth ulcers
- Sinus pain or earache
- Headache or stiff neck
- Diarrhea or pain when you have a bowel movement
- Bloody or cloudy urine; pain or a burning sensation during urination; frequent urination
- Unusual vaginal discharge or itching