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Living Now: Protecting yourself from infection

Your immune system isn’t able to protect you fully right now from germs that cause infections. While some infections can be minor, others can be serious.

These tips can help you lower your risk of infection as your immune system gets stronger. Remember, always follow the advice of your transplant team.

Take your medicines and get vaccines

Take your anti-infection medicines (like antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals) as instructed by your doctor. Over the next several years you may need to be re-vaccinated (re-immunized). Ask your doctor what vaccines you’ll need and when it will be safe for you to get them.

Keep your hands and body clean

Washing your hands often is one of the best ways to lower your risk of infection. You and others around you should wash your hands:

  • When you come home after going out
  • After you use the bathroom, take out the garbage, change a diaper, touch a pet or blow your nose
  • After you touch a shared object, like a phone, doorknob or money
  • Before preparing or eating food or taking medicines
  • Avoid changing diapers or wiping noses of children. If you do, use disposable gloves. Wash your hands after you throw the gloves away.

Don’t be shy about keeping a strict hand-washing policy with family, friends and visitors. Ask them to wash their hands as soon as they come into your home. Buying antibacterial soaps in fun dispensers can help kids get in the habit of hand-washing.

Other tips for keeping your body clean:

  • Take a daily bath or shower using mild soap. Your doctor can give you advice on soaps and shampoos that are mild.
  • Don’t share towels or washcloths.
  • Change your clothes and towels every day.
  • Change your sheets once a week.

Keep your mouth clean

Taking good care of your teeth and gums can help protect you from infection and mouth sores. Some general tips include:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush.
  • Check with your doctor to see when it’s safe for you to floss.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouth rinse or fluoride treatment as recommended by your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to take antibiotics before any dental procedures or teeth cleanings.

Keep your environment clean

Until your immune system is back to full strength, you’ll need to avoid dust, dirt, soil and plants as much as possible. To lower your risk of infection:

  • Stay inside when anyone is mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower or anything else that stirs up dust
  • Have someone help keep your house clean by mopping instead of sweeping
  • Avoid being in a room while it’s being cleaned

When it comes to plants and flowers:

  • Don’t bring any new live plants or flowers into your house.
  • Avoid live Christmas trees or other holiday plants.
  • Avoid outdoor gardening, yard or farm work.

Breathe clean air

There are many steps you can take to help improve the quality of the air you breathe:

  • Have someone change the air filters in your furnace regularly. Ask your transplant team how frequently they should be changed.
  • Don’t smoke anything and avoid second-hand smoke. Both tobacco and marijuana smoke can increase your chances of getting a serious lung infection.
  • Don’t use fireplaces, candles, oil lamps or incense. If you enjoy candles, consider getting battery-operated LED candles.
  • Avoid new construction, sawdust and environmental chemicals like paint and glue.
  • Check with your doctor before using a humidifier.

Protect yourself when you go out

Here are some tips for when you go out:

  • Visit places like stores, restaurants and movie theaters at times when they’re less busy.
  • Use protective gloves or disinfectant wipes in public places.
  • Avoid swimming in public or private pools, lakes or the ocean. Avoid using hot tubs.

Take precautions around visitors

Before anyone comes for a visit, tell them about your needs, and:

  • Don’t let anyone visit who has a rash or symptoms of a cold or flu.
  • Don’t allow visitors who have been in close contact with sick children.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who has had a live vaccine (immunization) in the past 2-4 weeks, as recommended by your doctor.

Be alert for signs and symptoms of infection

Some signs of infection include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Having to go to the bathroom (urinate) often
  • Having pain with urination or with a bowel movement
  • Blood in your urine or stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Confusion or decreased alertness
  • Severe fatigue (tiredness)
  • Bleeding
  • Coughing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Increased pulse, or feeling like your heart is “racing”
  • Lightheadedness

Remember, even if you do everything “right” you may still get an infection. If you experience anything that doesn’t seem quite right, tell your doctor. It could be an infection, a sign of GVHD or a side effect from your treatment.

Pets & Animals

Having pets around can be important for a person’s emotional well-being. If you already have cats or dogs, they can stay in your home. But no new pets should be brought in.

While you’re recovering, arrange for someone else to feed and clean up after your pet.

Dogs: Don’t let dogs lick you. Wash your hands after any contact with a dog.

Cats: Don’t let cats go outside or into areas where you eat, sleep or spend long periods of time. Tell your doctor right away if your cat scratches you and causes you to bleed.

Fish: It’s okay to have a home aquarium if someone else cleans it regularly.

Birds and reptiles: You shouldn’t have birds or reptiles in your home.

Patients in rural areas: You should avoid barns, fields and contact with farm animals. If you live in a rural area and farmers are working in nearby fields, ask your doctor if you can be outside.