All You Wanted to Know About Infections during Cancer

Table of Content

What is an Infection?

When germs (also called microbes or microorganisms) enter the body, multiply and cause illness, it is called infection. The main types of microbes   are bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. Infections can decrease the success of the cancer treatment by delaying or stopping it, so for successful treatment, it is very important to prevent the infections.

How does the Body Normally Fight Infections?

The immune system (the body's mechanism to fight against infections) is a complex network of cells, signals and organs that work together to kill germs that cause infections. White blood cells (WBCs) are the body's main defence against infection. WBCs are of different types and each type has a special job infighting infections.

How do Cancer and Cancer Treatment Affect the Body's Ability to Fight Infections?

Cancer may reduce the effectiveness of the body's immune system. Cancer treatments can cause infections in different ways as follow:

Chemotherapy

Along   with   the   cancerous   cells, chemotherapy alsacts on   the rapidly growing normal cells such as blood cells, thus preventing the production of enough healthy WBCs to fight off infections.

Radiotherapy

This affects the cells in the bone marrow (soft part inside the bone which produces the blood cells), including the   WBCs that normally fight off infection.

Surgery

Infection is a possible side effect of any type of surgery.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of an Infection?

During cancer and its treatment, the body may not be able to fight off infections like it used to, so even a minor infection can quickly become serious.

Do not Ignore if:

  • Fever that is 100.4°F (38°C) or higher for more than one hour; or a one-time temperature of 101 °F or higher.

  • Feeling cold, followed by sudden excessive sweating.

  • Change in a cough or onset of a new cough.

  • Sore (painful) throat or mouth ulcer.

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Stiff neck.

  • Increased urination and burning sensation or pain during urination

  • Blockage of the nose

  • Unusual vaginal discharge or irritation

  • Redness, soreness or swelling in any part of the body

  • Diarrhoea, vomiting

  • Pain in the abdomen or rectum

  • Beginning of pain in any other part of the body

Contact the doctor immediately if any of the above mentioned symptoms occur.

How can One Prevent an Infection?

    • before, during and after cooking food
    • before eating
    • after going to bathroom
    • after changing diapers or helping a child to use bathroom
    • after blowing the nose, coughing or sneezing
    • after touching or cleaning up a pet and,
    • after touching garbage.
  • Try to avoid crowded places and contact with people who are sick.

  • Do not share food, drink cups, utensils or other personal items such as toothbrushes.

  • Do not play or swim in pools, lakes, rivers or water parks.

  • Shower or bathe daily and use a lotion to prevent the skin from becoming dry and cracked.
  • Cook meat and eggs thoroughly to kill any germs.

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables properly.

  • Protect the skin from direct contact with pet urine or faeces.
  • Use gloves for any activity that might cause cuts on the hand, e.g. gardening, cutting vegetables, etc.

  • Clean the teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush, and use a mouthwash to prevent mouth sores.
  • Do not use an alcohol-based mouthwash.
  • Try and keep all the household surfaces clean.

  • Get vaccinated early on the advice of the doctor.
  • Discuss with the doctor if planning any travel and understand how to avoid infections

The Do’s and the Don’ts

DO's

  • Keep your hands clean
  • Avoid crowded places
  • Eat only properly washed and/or thoroughly-cooked food
  • Inform the doctor if planning to travel

Don’ts

  • Don't ignore a fever
  • Don't use an alcohol-based mouthwash
  • Don't share food, drink cups, utensils, etc.
  • Don't play or swim in pools, lakes, rivers or water parks
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