Infection (Low White Blood Cell Count)

Cancer treatment affects the bone marrow, causing a decrease in white blood cell production. White blood cells help protect the body from infection. To prevent infection:

  • Ask a friend or family member to clean animal cages and litter boxes.
  • Wash hands often, especially before and after using the bathroom, before eating, and after touching any animals. Ask friends and family to do the same.
  • Bathe or shower daily.
  • Brush teeth after every meal with an extra-soft bristled toothbrush. Check with the doctor before planning dental work or teeth cleaning.
  • Check with the doctor before taking herbal medicines or getting any vaccines.
  • Avoid crowds, people with colds or flu, and people who have been around sick people.
  • Check with the doctor before using enemas, rectal or vaginal suppositories, douches or tampons.
  • Use water-based lubricants during sex.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid contact with fresh or dried flowers and plants.
  • Request that anyone who recently received vaccinations to wait 48 hours before visiting.
  • Clean hearing aids daily

Try to stay away from children with infections or colds because you will be more susceptible to infections during your treatment. If you go out in public during treatment, consider wearing a mask to keep from inhaling common cold germs. Good hand washing and hygiene techniques help prevent infections during treatment.

When to Call the Doctor

Call the doctor or nurse immediately if you have:

  • Fever of 100.5°F or higher, sweats or chills. (If your white blood cell count is low, you may not have a fever.)
  • Coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or coughing up phlegm
  • Extreme fatigue or just feeling poorly in general
  • Mouth soreness, or white patches or sores in the mouth
  • Pain or burning with urination or cloudy urine
  • Redness, swelling, drainage or tenderness at any incision, wound, tube or catheter site
  • Toothache