Precautions to Take When White Blood Cell Count is Low
How can we keep germs at bay when someone has neutropenia?
- The short answer: lots and lots of hand-washing, says Terry Anders, clinical educator at the Zangmeister Cancer Center in Ohio. Keep antibacterial soap in all bathrooms and next to the kitchen sink, and keep antibacterial wipes and hand purifying gel in the car, your purse, and anywhere else it might come in handy.
- Use a disinfectant cleanser on all cooking and food preparation surfaces. When serving food, follow the basic rule of "cold food cold" and "hot food hot." Food that needs refrigeration should be left in the fridge until just before serving, and hot dishes, particularly those containing meat, should be heated through before serving.
- It probably goes without saying, but make sure he stays away from raw or undercooked meat and raw fish and shellfish when his immune system is compromised.
What other precautions should we take when someone's white blood cell count is low?
- Dry, chapped skin can crack, letting infection in, so it's a good idea to use plenty of hand lotion. Keep lotion near every sink so he's reminded to use it after hand-washing.
- If he insists on gardening or doing other chores that could lead to cuts and scrapes, suggest that he wear gloves.
- Shaving with an electric rather than manual razor is a good idea, since there's less likelihood of cuts.
- Encourage him to use antibacterial mouthwash after brushing his teeth.
- Cook and reheat food thoroughly so there's minimal chance of picking up a gastrointestinal bug.
- It's also best to avoid having any dental work done -- not even a cleaning and checkup -- while his white count is low.
Do I need to keep someone isolated while his white blood cell count is low?
The doctor will likely warn you to avoid crowded places or gatherings where he might come in contact with people carrying germs. In practical reality, though, it's probably better to reign in your paranoia and let life go on as normally as possible. "There's no need to have a 'boy in the bubble' mentality, because that's very quickly going to lower his quality of life," says Anders. "I try and put myself in the patient's shoes; I would hate for someone to act like a germophobe around me and say that I shouldn't visit friends or have the grandkids over. Plus, seeing the grandchildren is going to cheer him up, which has all sorts of benefits."
Certainly avoid anyone who's actively sick -- including children who've recently been vaccinated -- but otherwise, don't worry about it too much. Instead, Anders says, focus on hand-washing -- and more hand-washing -- and carry hand sanitizer with you everywhere you go. Disinfect doorknobs as well as food preparation surfaces.