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Infection and Fever

The risk of catching an infection is very serious for cancer patients. The body's immune system fights foreign micro-organisms, such as bacteria, and keep us healthy. Cancer and cancer treatments can weaken the immune system by reducing the number of white blood cells the body is able to make.

It is common for patients with cancer, especially those receiving chemotherapy, to experience low white blood cells. One type of white blood cells is called neutrophil. If this happens, you have an increased risk of getting an infection. Your healthcare team will check frequently to see if you have a low white blood cells.

Of the more common side effects of chemotherapy, infection is the most serious. If your white blood cell count becomes too low, your chemotherapy dose or treatment may need to be reduced or delayed. Changes or delays to your chemotherapy dose or schedule can change the results of your treatment. Serious infections can even be life-threatening and may require you to stay in the hospital.

It is important to watch for signs of infection during chemotherapy. Learn how to avoid infection and to identify the symptoms of infection. Ask your healthcare team to provide you with a contact name and phone number in case of fever or infection.

Antibiotic medications may be prescribed to prevent specific infections if your white blood cell counts are expected to remain low for a week or more. If you get an infection while you are receiving cancer treatment, you will almost certainly need an antibiotic. However, antibiotics should be used exactly as your healthcare team prescribes, in order to help prevent the development and spread of antibiotic resistance.  
What you can do
  • Wash hands often, especially before eating and after using the washroom. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer to clean your hands when water is not available.
  • Clean any cut at once with warm water, soap, and antiseptic.
  • Avoid crowds, and people with infections. 
  • Cut your nails carefully to avoid cuts.
  • Use an electric razor for shaving.
  • Use gloves for protection when doing activities that may cut the skin.
  •  Avoid constipation.
  • Wash well or peel uncooked fruits/vegetables.
  • Don't eat undercooked meat or poultry.
  • Don't clean cat litter boxes or bird cages. Avoid all contact with animal urine and stool.
  • Don’t get a flu shot or other type of vaccine without first asking your doctor or nurse.
Symptoms of Infection

If you develop any of the following symptoms, it may indicate that you have an infection:

  • Fever over 38° C (100° F)
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Shaking chills
  • Severe night sweats
  • Nausea and vomiting, especially with fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Urinary changes such as pain or burning upon urination
  • Sore throat, cough, shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Tenderness, redness, swelling, pain or discharge at the site of a catheter
  • Headache or neck stiffness
If you have symptoms of fever or infection, call your healthcare team right away, If it is after clinic hours, week-ends, holidays, or in the middle of the night, If you have a fever, You should go to the nearest emergency department and report you are on chemotherapy treatment.
Southlake Regional Health Centre
596 Davis Drive, Newmarket, Ontario   L3Y 2P9
Tel: 905-895-4521   |   TTY: 905-952-3062
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