What is infection?

An infection happens when the body’s immune system is unable to fight off bacteria, viruses, and pathogens. A healthy immune system destroys harmful germs. With a weak immune system, white blood cells have a tough time, fighting infection.

Cancer and its treatment can make the immune system weaker by lowering the level of certain white blood cells. Infections are treatable. They can be serious and life-threatening.

How bad is my infection?

Mild: Asymptomatic or mild symptoms; clinical or diagnostic observations only; intervention not indicated

Moderate: Moderate; minimal, local, or noninvasive intervention indicated; limiting age-appropriate instrumental activities of daily life (preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing housework, and using a telephone)

Severe: Severe or medically significant, not immediately life-threatening; hospitalization or
prolongation of existing hospitalization indicated; limiting self-care activities of daily life (eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet)

How to manage mild infection?
  • Wash your hands well and often, after using the bathroom and before eating. You can use hand sanitizers.
  • Take a shower or bath every day.
  • Use lotion to prevent dry and cracked skin.
  • Use gloves when you garden or do housework, cleaning.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well. 
  • Clean your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush. Use mouthwash to prevent infections if your doctor or dentist recommends it. 
  • Get a flu shot each fall.
How to manage moderate and severe infection?

Call a doctor or go to the hospital right away if you think you might have an infection along with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher and severe pain. Follow their advice and complete any course of antibiotics or other treatments.

What causes infection?
  • Chemotherapy and other cancer medicines
  • Radiation therapy to large areas of the body (pelvis, legs, chest, or belly)
  • Surgery
  • Bone marrow/stem cell transplantation
  • Cancers that affect the bone marrow (leukemia and lymphoma)
  • Cancers that have spread to the bone
  • Other health conditions (diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD)

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