Infection: The Less Mentioned Concern During Chemotherapy

Woman reading kindle during chemotherapy
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When most of us think of chemo treatment, we envision a woman sitting in a chemo chair, hooked up to an infusion bag of chemo drugs wearing a scarf or a wig. We think of side effects such as hair loss,nausea and neuropathy.

What most of us do not think of is the increased risk of infection while in treatment. Chemo is powerful therapy designed to kill cancer cells. Chemo drugs affect our immune system making us vulnerable to infections.

While your treatment provider will take every precaution during the times you receive chemotherapy, there are things you can do to lower your risk of infection at home and when out in public.

At Home:

  • Ask all visitors to be mindful of your risk of infection and not visit with a cold or other illness.
  • As much as visits from children can really lift the spirits, young children are often just coming down with something, or just getting over a bug or infection. You need to avoid these visits until treatment is over.
  • Use disposable gloves when cleaning or doing dishes.
  • Sanitize the phone after anyone else uses it. Sanitize the remote regularly.
  • Don’t drink from any open container or bottle that another member of the household may have drunk from.
  • Eat foods that are freshly prepared at home, or frozen, commercially packaged foods.
  • Eat only commercially packaged snacks and bakery products, not those that have been exposed to the air by being on display in a bakery or grocery store.
  • Whenever possible, use disposable cups for beverages, which will cut down on washing as well as being more hygienic.

In the Community:

  • Public Transportation: Buses and trains are loaded with germs on railings, buzzers, poles and doors. Carry hand sanitizer and use it. Whenever possible, avoid sitting near anyone who seems to have a cold or is coughing.
  • Food Establishments
    • Menus are the dirtiest objects in a restaurant. Used by many customers during  a day, they only get wiped down once or twice a day. Choose from the menu then sanitize your hands.
    • Don’t eat from the salad bar or any buffet. You don’t know how long the food has been out there or who may have handled or sneezed or coughed on the food.
    • Order a freshly prepared hot meal.
    • Request paper napkins rather than cloth.
    • Disposable paper cups are a better choice than plastic or glass.
    • Restroom- Lots of germs here!
      • Carry toilet seat liners – not every restroom has the disposable paper liners.
      • Use a tissue to use the flush handle.
      • When using the soap dispenser,  avoid the soap scum right under the dispenser.
      • Use paper towels, not the blow dry air. Paper towels are more sanitary.
      • It is a good idea to carry a travel size packet of paper towels, hand sanitizer, and toilet seat liner.
      • Use tissues on the door handle when exiting the bathroom.
    • Paying the bill: If paying in cash, use sanitizer after handling money.
  • Grocery Store:
    • The cart – before using wipe the handle with sanitizer.
    • The checkout – after emptying your cart and paying with cash, use your hand sanitizer.
    • Buy commercially packed and sealed snacks, bakery products, and nuts. Avoid those that are on display or in open bins where many hands make their own selections or you may get germs along with the treat you are buying.
    • Skip salad fixings as too many hands handle these items
    • Buy fruits with skins that can be peeled, such as pears, peaches, mangos, oranges, kiwis, melons and apples.
    • Frozen vegetables are a good choice.
  • The Shopping Mall: Your care team will caution you to avoid crowds throughout your treatment. If you need to shop, go in off hours.  Carry your sanitizer and use it often.

A little bit of caution can go a long way in keeping you infection free. You have enough to deal with during treatment without an infection.

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