What happens to patients on chemo if they catch a cold or the flu?

Ljc1108 asked...

What happens to patients on Chemo if they catch a cold or the flu?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

When a cancer patient is undergoing chemotherapy treatment, it almost always lowers his white blood cell count. Sometimes this happens only for a short period of time and the white blood cell count bounces back, other times it becomes an ongoing problem. Because white blood cells are the body's weapons against infection, having a low white blood cell count weakens the cancer patient's immune system. This means that when cancer patients catch a cold or flu, if their white count is low, they may not be able to fight off the infection as well as they normally would.

In this case, a cold or flu can quickly become more serious, leading to a high fever, pneumonia, or other complications. It's important for caregivers to understand the causes and symptoms of low white blood cell counts, so we've put together a longer article on the subject with more information.

When you're caring for a cancer patient and he catches a cold or flu, watch him closely for signs that the illness is becoming more serious. If his fever rises above 100 degrees or he develops a cough, chronic headache, or other symptoms of a bronchial or sinus infection, call his doctor. For more information on managing care for a patient with a low white blood cell count, see managing treatment for low white blood cell count.